Sunday, January 4, 2015

Restored and Uncensored, Le Jour Se Lève Plays at Film Forum

Special Theatrical Screening

Restored and Uncensored, Le Jour Se Lève Plays at Film Forum

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 11/13/14)

By Danny Peary
Le Jour Se Lève [Daybreak] fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor.  But I’m thankful that the once heavily censored and then banned and then lost 1939 French masterpiece is playing anywhere. I am excited to be able to see “the Unseen Complete Restoration” print that will be showing at the Film Forum in New York City from this Fridayuntil November 27.  I encourage all movie fans to join me.
In my 1986 book, Guide for the Film Fanatic, I wrote about the edited version: “The classic fatalistic melodrama, masterfully directed by Marcel Carné [Children of Paradise], with dialogue by Jacques Prévert [Port of Shadows].  As many American directors of forties noir films would do, these French filmmakers show us how a decent, average guy can become a murderer under the right circumstances.  Our doomed hero, Jean Gabin, shoots Jules Berry, then barricades himself in his room while scores of police gather outside.  He recalls how he got into this situation.  Gabin was a factory worker who fell in love with sweet but impressionable Jacqueline Laurent.  She loved him but turned down his proposal because she was fascinated with Berry, a middle-aged, lying, womanizing scoundrel who performed with trained dogs.  Rejected, Gabin began an affair with the realistic, mature Arletty, Berry’s former assistant and lover.  When Berry told Gabin he was Laurent’s father, not her lover, Gabin again pursued Laurent.  She told him that Berry was not her father.  Although Gabin wondered what went on between Laurent and Berry, he did not hesitate to get back together with her and break up with Arletty.  But then Berry turned up with a gun…
This landmark of French “poetic” realism is extremely intense, sensual (the height of eroticism is achieved when France’s heartthrob Gabin strokes Laurent just below her breasts)–although there is an underlying feeling that the sex in which Berry is involved is sordid–and atmospheric (the sets are not just part of the background but create the mood).  I can think of no other film in which so much import is given to costumes and props, including the gun [Carné insisted on firing real bullets], Gabin’s dangling cigarette, Laurent’s teddy beer, Gabin’s alarm clock, photos, postcards, hats, brooches, beds, mirrors, flowers, dresses, sweaters. (Characters almost always are drinking, smoking, or holding something.)  Most interesting is the structure: this four-character piece is broken down into several intimate two-character scenes.  We see Gabin and Laurent, Gabin and Arletty, Gabin and Berry, Laurent and Arletty, and, for one insightful moment, Berry and Arletty.  But, significantly, we never go behind closed doors and see what transpired between the most important combination, Berry and Laurent–it is the mystery of that relationship that drove Gabin to his destruction.  This picture would have been ideal for Fritz Lang–a character (Laurent) even cuts her finger, a favorite Lang device that signals events are about to take a drastic turn.  Remade in America in 1947 by Anatole Litvak, as The Long Night.

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