Former actor Julien Duvivier’s most personal, most brilliant film, The End of the Day, is set in an abbey that has been converted into a private theatrical retirement home—one so financially strapped, however, that its closing is imminent. Superbly written by Charles Spaak and Duvivier, this French marvel expresses Duvivier’s bone-deep pessimism while yet eluding cynicism. The ebullient tragicomedy is populated by geriatric thespians who are broke and who struggle with their memories and the loss of career acclaim, and with “the end of the day”: the encroaching shadow of death.
Marny, wedded to his dignity, and Raphaël Saint-Clair (Louis Jouvet, terrific), wedded to his egotism, spar over their past careers: one, who (now regretfully) spurned the pursuit of popularity by loftily insisting on classical purity; the other, a matinee idol whose loss of adulation and offstage sexual adventurism (including with Marny’s wife) has deranged him. Saint-Clair is headed for a breakdown and relocation to a mental asylum: a metaphor for all the residents’ fates before “the end of the day,” as well as a stunning projection of the mood of war-haunted Europe as it approaches another world war.
In the meantime, there is also among the hospice’s residents Cabrissade (Michel Simon, spectacular): an overweight, childlike clown and residual Leftist who had never “made it,” the perpetual understudy who finally gets to replace Saint-Clair in a performance at the last minute but, alas, is so overcome by stage fright that he cannot remember his lines. This is doubly ironic, since Cabrissade himself wrote the “script” for his eulogy, giving himself a flamboyant finish—although Marny departs from the letter of the deceased’s own words at the funeral service that hauntingly concludes this magnificent film. “I can’t grow old,” Cabrissade had said; “it’s against my nature.” He had been wedded to youth, its optimism and possibilities. At the last, the camera slowly rises and departs the twilit funeral service. The shot, though, is cut short—as is every human life, every illusion, every human folly.
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