POIL DE CAROTTE (Julien Duvivier, 1932)

Some now call it a masterpiece, but certainly writer-director Julien Duvivier’s charming, rustic Poil de Carotte—the sound remake of his 1925 silent—is not that. (Both versions are based on novels by Jules Renard.) It is too fragile for that, its fragility contributing to its charm. Few, however, do not find the film delightful.
     The opening movement parallels separately Monsieur Lepic (Harry Baur, effective) and youngest son François, “Poil de Carotte”; they both feel alienated from their family. The film begins with Lepic’s heavy legs making their way downstairs; he reaches for his gun to go hunting, not bothering to speak, including to his wife. To her chagrin, he stopped speaking to her some time ago. (We later discover that Lepic is talkative enough away from home.) At the same time, François is at school; the 12-year-old boy is being lectured by his teacher for his definition of family: “people living under the same roof abusing one another.” Indeed, Madame Lepic, who much favors her older sons, seems determined to make frail, slight François miserable. It is Mme Lepic who has given her youngest the humiliating nickname of “Redhead”—not that his hair is red, he explains to his teacher, but that she “sees red” whenever she looks at him.
     As the film ripens, father and son become, well, father and son. François no longer fears Lepic. But a public humiliation inclines the sensitive boy to suicide. When he gets wind of this, Papa sets off to rescue his newfound ally.
     The most celebrated aspect of Duvivier’s film is its poetry—enchanting subjective open-air passages depicting the boy’s craving for freedom and beauty, and his feckless imagination. Among these is also, however, one of cinema’s finest waking nightmares evoking the fears of childhood.

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