An excellent series ongoing now at Berlin's Arsenal, featuring 19 films from Julien Duvivier--with many useful rarities curated by accomplished film historians Ralph Eue and Frederik Lang, but lacking a few key titles (as would be argued differently by yours truly and by Eddie Muller).
The series is haphazardly displayed at the Arsenal site, so we've reconstructed it in screening order for you below. We've included some of the background information for films that are less well-known: in some instances, you may wish to pardon the high-falutin' critical tone taken by the curators (a phenomenon documented more thoroughly at gatekeepers-be-pompous.com)
Wed 3/1 7:00pm LA BELLE EQUIPE (1936) erroneously listed as 1931
Thurs 3/2 7:00pm SOUS LE CIEL DE PARIS (1951)
Julien Duvivier develops loosely interwoven incidents into a panorama of a day in the life of the city of Paris and its people. Seven people, who unbeknownst to them will be decisive for each other on this day, function like the living signs of an artfully composed whole, in which the tragic has an equal footing with the comic and absurd. Certainly, the many random coincidences are the fruit of a scriptwriter and director’s mind but precisely because his omniscience seems to be taken to extremes here, the despotic nature of the narrative maneuvers also comes across clearly. With somnambulistic certainty, Duvivier strikes a balance between absolute hermeticism and boundless openness.
Sat 3/4 7:00pm DAVID GOLDER (1931)
Duvivier's first sound film was also a key film in his oeuvre. His adaptation of the debut novel by the Jewish-Ukrainian writer Irène Némirovsky, who wrote in French, is a somber masterpiece: The title character David Golder (Harry Baur) is a wealthy businessman, who is perceived by his wife and daughter mainly as the guarantor of their life of luxury in Biarritz. When he has a breakdown and subsequent crisis of purpose, triggered by the suicide of a business partner whom he unscrupulously drove to ruin, they are horrified. In this unfathomable work, capitalism comes across as cynically and inhumanely as communism. It is a film that deals with the anti-Semitism of the time and makes the small bliss of love come across like a cheap, albeit costly, bourgeois fantasy – yet it still manages to leave the audience with a vulnerable belief in humanism at the end.
9:00pm L'AFFAIRE MAURIZIUS (1954)
The film adaptation of Jakob Wassermann's factual novel about a miscarriage of justice was a long-cherished dream project of Duvivier’s. Using flashbacks, this didactic film about lies, guilt and despair tells the story of how Léonard Maurizius (Daniel Gélin), accused of killing his wife (Madeleine Robinson), was found guilty primarily because of the vehement approach of the ambitious prosecutor (Charles Vanel) and the testimony of the shady key witness Grégoire Waremme (Anton Walbrook, the film's secret star). Eighteen years later, the prosecutor's son (Jacques Chabassol) takes notice of the case. Distraught about his father's hard-heartedness, he sets out on his own to find the crucial witness, who has apparently changed names and appearance.
Sun 3/5 7:00pm ALLO BERLIN? ICI PARIS! (1932)
One of Duvivier's most cheerful films was a German-French-US co-production, a fast-paced comedy of love and mistaken identity about telephone operators in Paris and their colleagues at the Berlin telephone exchange. Brimming with the joy of experimentation, this multi-language film - the Germans speak German with each other, the French French, and when they meet they do their best to make themselves understood - celebrates the unifying power of the telephone, as well as the new medium of sound film...
Mon 3/6 7:00pm AU ROYAUME DES CIEUX (1949)
The tone is set in the opening credits, in which the film is dedicated to “unhappy youth” to the accompaniment of church bells, which allude to the heaven of the title on the one hand but are also, quite prosaically, the bells of a reform school to which the 18-year-old orphan Maria (Anne Saint-Jean) has just been admitted. The kind-hearted matron dies during the admission process and is replaced by the sadistic Mademoiselle Chamblas (Suzy Prim). From then on, ruthless severity, humiliation and draconian punishments are the order of the day. Maria’s only consolation is to wait for her lover Pierre (Serge Reggiani) who has figured out where she is. The film is littered with Christian symbolism – from the name of the main character to the torrential floods that finally allow her and Pierre to escape during a Christmas service – and the chastisement rituals of poisonous pedagogy. It is a thoroughly unforgiving look at post-war French society.
Wed 3/8 7:00pm ALLO BERLIN? ICI PARIS! (1932)
Thurs 3/9 7:00pm THE FIVE ACCURSED GENTLEMEN (1931)
With different actors in part, Duvivier made both a French and a German version of this film, which was mostly shot on location in North Africa: Five wealthy young men meet while travelling in Morocco. In Moulay Idriss, they come across a veiled woman with beautiful eyes, who is accompanied by a blind beggar. When one of the men tries to remove the woman’s veil, the beggar pronounces a curse and tells them that they will all die, one by one, before the full moon. Indeed, the first man dies that evening when he falls off a cliff, soon afterwards the second dies in a plane crash, and the third is found stabbed to death near the ruins of a temple. Petersen (Adolf Wohlbrück), the last of the five accursed gentlemen, does everything he can to keep number four (Jack Trevor) alive.
The French version of this film, sometimes given the English title of MOON OVER MOROCCO, was--along with DAVID GOLDER--considered for MCP's upcoming THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LOST CONTINENT series which plays at the Roxie April 1-2-3-8-9. They didn't make the cut, but we hope to show it (and AU ROYAUME DES CIEUX) at a later point in time.
9:00pm PEPÉ LE MOKO (1937)
Mon 3/13 8:00pm UN CARNET DE BAL (1937)
Christine de Guérande (Marie Bell), a well-to-do widow who is still young, comes across the dance card of her first ball when she was just 16 years old. Over a decade later, she decides to travel back into her own past and seek out all the partners, whose names are immortalized in the booklet. But this return, fueled by a melancholy longing, to a time when the young men seemed to have a promising future, turns out more and more, and from station to station, to be a merry-go-round of disappointed illusions.
Hard to pass up a fabulously charming, bittersweet "sketch film" by Duvivier, with both Louis Jouvet AND Harry Baur in the cast...
Wed 3/15 8:00pm LYDIA (1941, USA)
(The only film from Duvivier's Hollywood period in the series, a fact that would rankle Eddie M., who can talk for hours--and hours--about FLESH AND FANTASY. For our money, though, if you're showing just one Duvivier-in-the-USA title, it's TALES OF MANHATTAN.)
Fri 3/17 7:00pm POL DE CARROTE (1925)
(The only film from Duvivier's prolific silent period in the series.)
Sat 3/18 7:00pm POL DE CARROTE (1932)
(The sound remake.)
9:00pm BOULEVARD (1960)
Made at the cusp of the Nouvelle Vague, BOULEVARD is a coming-of-age story about a fatherless and rebellious adolescent named Jo-Jo that is set in a tenement building on Place Pigalle, an area characterized by poverty, sin and glitter. It features Jean-Pierre Léaud in his second lead role, immediately after his triumphant breakthrough in Truffaut's Les 400 coups. Life constantly throws a spanner in his works and people turn out to be anything but helpful. Jo-Jo had imagined his first steps into adulthood in Montmartre very differently.
A standard genuflection to critical orthodoxy by our German intellectuals; they'd have had more fun with LA CHAMBRE ARDENTE (1962), which also reminds us that Duvivier could work with young, trendy actors. But what's criminal in its absence from the series, of course, is CHAIR DE POULE (1963), simply the best 60s noir made anywhere (with only Shinoda's PALE FLOWER  giving it a run for its money).
Mon 3/20 8:00pm MARIE-OCTOBRE (1959)
Fourteen years after the end of the war, the former members of a Resistance cell gather in a villa, at the invitation of Marie-Octobre (Danielle Darrieux) and the owner of the estate (Paul Meurisse). At their last meeting, just before the Liberation, the Gestapo had stormed the same estate and shot Castille, the leader of the group. He hovers over the gathering like the ghost of a martyr because it is clear that one of the former resistance fighters must have betrayed the others and the meeting to the enemy. The informant is thus in the room. Duvivier presents a claustrophobic and masterful cat-and-mouse game that is told in real-time and in which each of the people present is both cat and mouse. Ever new variations, chasms and possible motives come to light until in the end the culprit reveals themselves, and the question of atonement and punishment inevitably comes to the fore.
An excellent film with a fantastic cast (mostly overlooked in the above description--beyond Darrieux and Meurisse, there's Lino Ventura, Serge Reggiani, Bernard Blier, Daniel Ivernel, and the ubiquitous-to-French-noir Robert Dalban). One of the highlights of our FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT series in 2018.
Thurs 3/23 8:00pm PANIQUE (1946)
Now relatively well-known in America as the last incursion into French noir taken by Rialto Pictures during their "monetize the lost films" strategy (which finally broke down after serving them in good stead for nearly 20 years). Both Eddie and I got on the bandwagon and screened it after its arthouse run (remember arthouses?).
Fri 3/24 7:00pm LA TETE D'UN HOMME (1933)
Harry Baur as Maigret, in a Simenon tale later remade in the late 40s as THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER. Screened at THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT 5 1/2 in April 2019, along with Gabin's first turn as Maigret in MAIGRET TEND UN PIEGE (1958).
9:00pm VOICI LE TEMPS DES ASSASSINS (1956)
A vicious performance from Daniele Delorme that was one of the key highlights of the first FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT festival in 2014.
Sat 3/25 9:00pm PEPÉ LE MOKO (1937)
Repeat screening; why they're not showing LA BANDERA (1935) with it is a mystery...
Wed 3/29 8:00pm LA CHAROTTE PHANTOME (1940)
Since its premiere, the film has been unjustly overshadowed by the first film adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf's novel "Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness," Viktor Sjöström's Körkarlen (1921). Duvivier breaks away from its complex flashback structure and that of the book to concentrate in his linear narration much more on the Christian motifs of the story about the "phantom carriage," which the last person to die before the turn of the year has to pull for a year, to collect the souls of the dead. This fate will befall the drifter Georges (Louis Jouvet - who already looks like the living dead). His fellow drunkard David Holm (Pierre Fresnay), an erstwhile glassblower who is sick, finds refuge in a newly opened Salvation Army asylum with Sister Edith (Micheline Francey), who recognizes a soul in need of rescuing. Duvivier quotes the aesthetics of expressionist silent film without restraint and at the same time creates a late highlight of Poetic realism.
Fri 3/31 7:00pm LA FIN DU JOUR (1939)
LA FIN DU JOUR oscillates effortlessly between parodic and melancholy storytelling. The plot revolves around retired actors, some of whom dwell on long-ago triumphs and others who can’t stop licking the wounds of still painful failures. Once a famous mime and cynical heartbreaker, Raphaël Saint-Clair (Louis Jouvet) arrives, utterly penniless, at a retirement home for actors. Apart from many former loves, he also encounters the stern mime Gilles Marny (Victor Francen), who has always suffered from a lack of recognition and whose wife took her own life because of an affair with Saint-Clair, and the owlish Cabrissade (Michel Simon), who targets everyone without exception with his coarse mockery, but with preference Marny and Saint-Clair. The central conflict of the three main characters is enriched by the whole ensemble of brilliant leading and supporting actors from France’s cinema scene, and thus the entire film seems like a stage set up first and foremost to pay tribute to the variety and art of acting.
So, all in all, a stellar retrospective with only a few quibbles. One can hope that Bruce Goldstein will take note and try to do something analogous at Film Forum. (Though given his location, he'd truly be remiss to omit TALES OF MANHATTAN! And no Duvivier series is complete without CHAIR DE POULE.)
Here's the link to a pretty good introduction to the series by Criterion's resident ecrivant, David Hudson: