Home Video Hovel- Jean Gremillon: During The Occupation, by Jack Fleischer
Full Confession: I had no idea who Jean Grémillon was before agreeing to review During the Occupation. Now I know that Grémillon was a violinist turned director who worked from the ‘20s through to the end of the ‘50s. He turned out silent films and documentaries, and went from the avant-garde to the conventional. While this three-disc set lacks extra features (released on Criterion’s “Eclipse” line), these three films can absolutely entertain and enlighten the casual film fan.
Jean Grémillon During the Occupation is a fascinating look at the French film world as it operated under Nazi occupation. These films; Remorques (1941), Lumière D’été (1943), Le Ciel Est à Vous (1944) hit different notes in different ways, and while none give away any overt opinions of the occupation, they do excellent jobs of reflecting the values and daily concerns of a mid-century French populace.
Translated as “Stormy Waters” this picture has the unusual distinction of having been begun before the occupation, and being finished after the Nazi takeover. In fact a number of those involved in its production, including it’s star, escaped to the United States before its release.
Kenneth Branagh doppleganger, Jean Gabin (Le Grand Illusion), plays a tugboat captain patrolling the French coast and dealing with all the inconveniences love brings. The nearest mainstream pop culture ally to this film is probably Casablanca. More bitter than sweet, and really it’s not something to watch if you’re feeling down. While it may not have been intentional, it’s ending could be seen as indicative of the occupation.
On top of some interesting insights into the intricacies of traditional French romantic entanglements, this film offers some interesting special effects work. While the model work here may have been cutting edge at the time, it’s artificiality now takes on an odd dreamlike quality. If it had been made 50 years later the special effects would have seemed like an artistic choice.
Short and dark it packs a punch, and is a great introduction to Grémillon.
This two-hour tour-de-force is considered Grémillon’s artistic high water mark. The premise itself is about as allegorical as it gets. Peopled with drunk poets, wealthy criminals, frustrated women and hard working construction workers all looking for love between a castle and a glass hotel in the mountains, this film is as much about class and philosophy as it is about love. In fact its messages about class were enough to get it removed from the theaters shortly after its original release.
Blowing up the traditional love triangle, this film actually has the audacity to go in for a love quadrangle. While it may seem a tad melodramatic at times, one of the great things about all this (and all the films in the collection), is that it’s still never afraid to turn a dark eye towards the reality of human nature.
Ciel Est A Vous
Grémillon’s most financialy successful movie, it’s easy to see why.
While sticking to his familiar themes of love and devotion, “The Woman Who Dared” does it in a much more lighthearted and inspiring way. If I may be so bold, Frank Capra could just as easily have directed this film. The only difference is that instead of a small town American underdog hero doing great things, it’s a small town French underdog heroine doing great things.
This story is about the wife of a WWI fighter pilot and mechanic. When an airstrip comes to their small French village, the husband introduces her to the world of flight. Soon, the two of them become consumed with the goal of having her set the record for the farthest flight ever undertaken by a woman. This film is sweet, funny, and is easily the most accessible of the three films included in this collection.
Besides the remarkably comprehensive, yet brief, liner notes from Michael Koresky, there isn’t much to this DVD collection. Yet the important thing here is the selection of films show a remarkably diverse yet rarely seen part of the golden age of French filmmaking. Jean Grémillon During the Occupation is a collection that’s perfect for the dedicated cinematic Francophile, and the film fan with only a brief French flirtation.