Having rescreened LES JEUX SONT FAITS recently (this past spring in our OTHER SIDE OF THE LOST CONTINENT series, where it also fit seamlessly...), I can only bow and scrape at the feet of Micheline Presle (by the way, Eddie--it's pronounced "prelle") for her transcendent work in this unique film. She appears to be the last of the legendary French actresses still with us, having turned 98 last month. A thousand bouquets are not nearly enough praise for her towering achievement here...
And great thanks to ChiO for his superb field guide to FRENCH 3.
THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT 3--Nuit 5 (Monday, Nov. 7)
The Festival closed with two by Jean Delannoy. He, along with Julien Duvivier, Yves Allegret, Andre Cayatte, et al., bore the brunt of the wrath that came from Francois Truffaut, et al., in their critique of the French “Tradition of Quality.” How appropriate to end with him.
Delannoy directed MACAO, L’ENFER DU JEU aka GAMBLING HELL in 1939, but it was not released until 1942 after one of the two stars--Erich von Stroheim--was edited out because of the German prohibition on showing movies in which he appeared. The Roxie audience, however, viewed the version with him, which was released in 1945. It is a Romantic Adventure Spy movie teetering on the edge of film noir.
Von Stroheim is a gunrunner without the money to run the guns that the Chinese need to stave off the Japanese. Along with a young woman (Mireille Balin) he has saved from execution and a reporter, they sail to Macao to make a deal for guns with a gambling kingpin (Sessue Hayakawa). Hayakawa’s naïve daughter (Louise Carletti) has an inter-racial romantic entanglement that would likely have been censored in the U.S., instead of Stroheim, at the time. The treachery involved in the securing of money for the guns keeps the film's noir undercurrent in play. The finale, breathtakingly shot with nobody winning except the Japanese, places it firmly in film noir territory. Nicolas Hayer, highlighted yesterday afternoon for his work in LEVIATHAN aka DARK JOURNEY, provided the cinematography.
“Man is condemned to be free.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
From the Hell of Macao, LE JEUX SONT FAITS aka THE CHIPS ARE DOWN (1947) sweeps us to Heaven--or, if not quite Heaven, at least to another world. The wealthy Eve (the luminous Micheline Presle) is being poisoned by her slimy husband André (the villainous Fernand Fabre, whom we later learn is a higher-up in the Vichy government). Cut. The poor Pierre (the heroic Marcel Pagliero) is rallying a Resistance force against the Vichy militia. Cut. Eve demands that André keep his hands off of her younger sister. Cut. Delannoy’s cuts between two seemingly disparate stories becomes quicker and quicker until Pierre is shot in the back by a young traitor to the cause and Eve succumbs to the poison. And we are only into the film for a few minutes...!
Their ghosts arise and are drawn to a spot where other ghosts await the recording of their official deaths. Eve and Pierre meet. It is love. Deus ex machina: there is a provision in the Official Recording of Death that permits persons destined to fall in love, but who only meet in the After Life, to return to Life for 24 hours and, if they are together and devoted to each other upon the end of that period, they can live their lives together. No question. They return to Life. And that return shocks Eve’s husband and Pierre’s comrades.
Pierre tries to convince his comrades that their plot has been discovered and they must postpone it. He fails. Eve tries to convince her sister that André is only after her dowry as he was Eve’s. She fails. Eve and Pierre reunite. A night is spent together. One hour before their 24 hours are up, they each know what they must do. They separate. Pierre tries again to convince his comrades to postpone their plans. Eve tries again to convince her sister not to fall for André. Too late…in more ways than one.
Exquisite cinematography by Christian Matras, whose work we also saw on Thursday with LE DERNIER TOURNANT (Pierre Chenal 1939).
Any resemblance to A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH aka STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger 1946)--yes, released approximately six months apart--is only on the surface (and, yes, the use of a French Revolution-era dandy as a Guide for the Departed in each makes the surface resemblance stronger; something must have been in the air). Jean-Paul Sartre, co-writer of the dialogue, wrote the scenario in 1943 and Delannoy was responsible for the adaptation. The messages of the two films could not be more different, and the respective titles provide strong clues as to that difference. Powell/Pressburger provide a resolution that shows the endurance of Love and a metaphor for the endurance of the British-American alliance. Delannoy/Sartre provide only questions.
Is there Hope? Is there Hope only if one fights for it? Is the fight for Hope futile? Is Love forever? Is there some impulse greater than Love? Are others more important than Self? Does any of it matter? Is there a choice?
The answer to each is, I believe, “yes.” Or, perhaps, “no.” And therein lies the film noir.
Although it is always difficult to judge such things, in a festival of fifteen films where each received a solid round of applause, this received the greatest. A testament not only to the film itself, but in appreciation of Don Malcolm curating a program of rare French film noir for which an audience hungers.