Killer Pierre Barbier hides in a musician’s basement in a suburban Paris slum in Porte des Lilas, which director René Clair, adapting René Fallet’s novel La Grande Ceinture, describes as a “comédie dramatique.” Inside a bar a newspaper account of the event that has made Barbier a hunted fugitive is read aloud as the camera passes through a window to survey children playing outside. The kids must make do with very little for their play; their “play” enacts—re-creates—Barbier’s latest exploit. Our blood chills as we realize that their recreation/re-creation, steeped in the malnourished neighborhood environment, dress-rehearses possible future criminal activity of their own. Moreover, the studio-bound outdoor set pointedly helps stifle the air that these children are left to breathe.
Juju is a purposeless, borderline-idiotic drunk in his forties or early fifties. The musician, known only as The Artist, is Juju’s closest friend. Juju embraces sobreity and develops unselfish purpose by catering to Barbier’s needs and helping to conceal Barbier from the police—so much so, however, that he comes to confront the killer over the latter’s intention to break the heart of Maria, the local girl whom Juju himself secretly loves.
Despite an occasional infusion of hilarious slapstick, Clair’s film suits the splendid melancholy of the music, which was composed by Georges Brassens, who also (tepidly) plays The Artist. We feel in our bones that the material is headed for a finish comprising shattered lives.
Henri Vidal’s Barbier fails to convince; pert Dany Carrel’s Maria touches. The film’s centerpiece, though, is Pierre Brasseur’s engaging, beautifully modulated performance as Juju. Other assets are Clair’s gift for irony, his trenchant use of black-and-white, and his handling of dogs and The Artist’s Tatiesque, which is to say, Hulot-ish, cat.
Bodil Award, Best European Film.
B(U)Y THE BOOK
MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.