Fihn That Preaches Anti-War Philosophy
From IRIS CONLAY, Catholic Herald Film Critic
France has everything this week.
At all the foreign film studios a French film is showing, though none are of high renown, all are Class A.
Gribouille is a thin piece of fiction, although a rich piece of character-acting. La Belle Equipe has a pattern, and good tight construction about it which is intriguing to follow out. It has humour and characteracting, too. More character work in La Grande Illusion, but the importance of this film is its anti-war philosophy,
Jean Gabin appears twice this week (in the two last mentioned) and everything he does is generous and not-to-be-overlooked.
Human Story Gribouille (Curzon) is just one of those big human stories of lovable, but foolish,
people, so that one has the same sort of affection for it that one has for one's own great big domestic pussy-cat. Gribouille is the name of a legendary character in France who is described as one who would jump into a pond to save himself from getting wet in a shower; such a person is Camille Morestan (Raimu) the hero of this film.
Morestan keeps the local sports shop in the village. He is full of good heart, with very little good head. On the jury at a murder trial, sentiment carries him off, and by his eloquence he sways the whole jury to save a young girl from a. murder sentence. But the girl, when saved from death has nowhere to live. Morestan invites her to work in his shop and the story resolves the complications that arise in the mind, of those who cannot credit Morestan with disinterested philanthropy.
Many little Catholic customs are registered in this film of simplicities. St. Joan of Arc's statue mounts guard over the desk of the little sports shop. At Christmas time the shop window is decorated with a crib, and being a sports shop the three kings and the shepherds are mounted on miniature skiis. And the big scene takes place at Christmas midnight Mass.
Unlike. Hollywood's and England's eyeupkifted, hands joined, pious platitudinal conception of religion on the screen. France has woven these details unsentimentally into the woof of the story, till they are as natural as real religion is in life itself.
Five Little Down-and-Outs La Belle Equipe (Berkeley) ought to be re-named Five Little Niggerboys. It is the story of five good companions who stick together in their down-and-out existences, win a great prize in lottery, and then disintegration begins.
At first their joint plan to build a great riverside pleasure house, to make a success on co-operative lines of the restaurant and dance hall is one of sheer joy.
Happiness ebbs slowly away. Two of
(Continued at foot of columns 4 and 5) the men love the same girl. One man
leaves suddenly for Canada to make room for the other. Then the four go merrily At an inaugural party, one of the four falls from the roof to a tragic death. Then three. But one is sought for by the police and has to flee the country. Then two.
Two also have trouble over a woman, but, the end . . . it shall be left. There are two versions of the conclusion, one comedy, one tragedy, because most of the tale is told in comedy, the Berkeley's end is happy.
With Jean Gabin, and Charles Vanel, you may expect magnificent characterisation, and you get it.
Special Prize for This Jean Gabin also appears in La Grande Illusion (Academy)—the film for which a special prize was created, so the publicity sheets tell me. The prize was the International Jury Cup for the world's most artistic film of 1937—Venice film congress could not, for political reasons, give it an ordinary prize.
All this seems a little strange to us who can look upon this story of the prisonerof-war camps in a very cool temper, but apparently militaristic prejudice in other countries is too strong for it.
Personally I don't call La Grande Illusion a technical achievement deserving particular award for any artistic merit. If I just wanted entertainment I might even call its long drawn-out sans-episode prison scenes tedious; maybe its characters are crisp enough, but how little do they do, except escape in the last reel. The whole point, however, is that La Grande Illusion is a film with a purpose.
Film with a Purpose
Renoir (relation of painter Renoir), the producer, has very evidently determined to make a picture which will illustrate the futility of war. Without necessarily crying down service to one's country, he shows how little fighting is worth. Men do not hate each other naturally; for war hatred must be falsely engendered. So in the internment camp the philosophic German officer (Erich von Stroheim) finds friendship for his prisoner, the French officer (Pierre Fresnay); and the French lieutenant (Jean Gabin) falls in love with the German war widow (Dita Park)). " Neither nature nor love recognise frontiers."
Is it significant that both Italy and Germany haue banned this film2