Criterion Prediction #126: Hotel du Nord, by Alexander Miller
Title: Hotel du Nord
Director: Marcel Carné
Cast: Annabella, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Louis Jouvet, Arletty, Paulette Dubost
Synopsis: On the canals of Saint-Marin, the titular hotel houses a group of disparate individuals, but things take a turn when a young couple check in and bungle a double suicide. Their lives intertwine with residents and individuals peripheral the titular hotel.
Critique: Hotel du Nord feels like the aesthetic equivalent of a highlight reel cut from both parts of Carné’s seminal Children of Paradise, and his politically-charged noir Port of Shadows. The sense of time and motion is evident in every scene, the characters are drawn with sociological awareness, political influence, and proletariat gravitas, and his penchant for stagecraft and pageantry is visible throughout. While it was alleged that Carné avoided anything political after the negative reception that circled Port of Shadows [Ed note – the Vichy government literally blamed Port of Shadows for the French losing World War II; seriously], the overtones are evident in the nuanced tenor of the richly-textured framework of the film. An adopted child from the Spanish Civil War is skittish to outside noise; a forlorn couple bent on a double suicide pact are obviously destitute; the very setting, a place for transients and people lost in life, reflect economic tumult. And in the most elaborate sequences, a Bastille Day celebration, Carné directed the streetside anniversary with the attentiveness that would suit any epic spectacle, fluid camera movements, hundreds of extras, long sweeping takes. It’s foolishness simultaneously evokes a feeling of deviated, or destabilized sense of indulgent nationalism while the event is a shade for murder while frustrated guests shout out their window flustered by the noise. Although Carné’s is reported to have sidestepped politics in making this film, Hotel Du Nord isn’t the escapist fare it’s been wrongfully branded as, but a technically superior and expressionistic piece poetic realism that imbues traditional melodrama with a tidily dynamic sense of craftsmanship.
There’s a beautiful symmetry that exists between the symbolic relationship with the winding locale as a reflection of the interweaving characters. The staircases, alleys, parks, and waterways of Saint-Canal are the slyly arranged counterpoint the winding interiors of the titular hotel, the characters myriad fates provides a calibrated syntax. There’s an elevated sense of street-hewn gravitas that connects to all facets of Hotel du Nord. At times a tough-minded tale of crime and passion, with Dostoyevskian overtones that flirts with romantic fancy, this is a sustained classic of French cinema from one of mediums early masters.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: The Criterion Collection has the capital on the major classics of French cinema – La Chienne, Pepe Le Moko, L’Atlante, Boudu Saved From Drowning, Rules of the Game – and Carné’s Children of Paradise was one of Criterion’s major titles to receive a Blu-ray restoration, and with Hotel du Nord appearing on their FilmStruck channel it might be a sign that we could see more Carné’s work coming into the collection. Maybe Port of Shadows will even get a Blu-ray release while we’re at it, though it has been out of print for some time.