Thursday, September 13, 2012

Jean Grémillon


This week, at the site MUBI, the Siren has a long essay about Jean Grémillon and the new DVD set of three of his films (Le ciel est à vous, Lumière d'été and Remorques) from Criterion's no-frills Eclipse label. This is part of the discussion of Remorques, the Siren's favorite of the four she's seen, the other being Gueule d'Amour. (New Yorkers, take note: Remorques plays at the Film Forum today, at 1 pm, 4:40 pm and 8:20 pm.) They are all wonderful; discovering Grémillon has been a highlight of the Siren's cinematic year.

All three of the movies are deeply rewarding, but it's the simplest one, Remorques, that has the greatest beauty. It's helped by the presence of Michèle Morgan and Jean Gabin, two stars so blindingly charismatic that their merest eye contact is worth pages of exposition. To this Remorques adds Prevert's gorgeous dialogue (he rewrote much of the script), and Grémillon's passionate feel for the freedom of the sea and the confinement of land.

Gabin plays André, a tugboat operator ("remorques" translates as "towline") who makes a dangerous living rescuing boats from the storm-tossed waters off the Brittany coast. He's married to Yvonne (Renaud again--Grémillon loved this actress, with good reason); their relationship is loving, if not quite happy. She's grown tired of André's profession, tired of constantly fearing for his safety. Quietly, persistently, she's trying to persuade him to give it up. But he doesn't want to, not really, despite his frequent expressions of disgust for the low pay and wretched conditions. Gabin plays his scenes with Renaud with a mixture of real affection and wariness; she's trying to detach him from his one source of excitement, the one place where he's strong and in control. Yvonne is a Spanish-moss spouse--lovely but potentially suffocating.

André's crew rescues the vessel of Marc (Jean Marchat), a craven captain who's willing to let his boat go down so he can collect the insurance. His wife, Morgan, naturally has come to loathe him. Unable to spend another minute with the man, she takes a raft to Gabin's boat. Morgan and Gabin snipe at one another on board, they meet again onshore, they talk...

Remorques is a romantic melodrama, and these films are always built on emotions that are common, even when the situations are not. Here's a man who has lingering love for a good wife whose needs have become dreary and whose presence is no longer exciting; and here's a woman married to someone whose once-thrilling attentions turned out to be a cover for contempt and abuse. And the two connect, as such unhappy souls easily might in reality.

19 comments:

barrylane said...

I do not believe she has grown tired of Andre's profession. She is fearful and in touch with her own mortality, aand it is this real feeling that overrides all other considerations. Also, I think Adre lives pretty well as Captain. They are clearly in the middle class. Finally, I understood the title translated to Stormy Weather. Quite appropriate if so.

barrylane said...

Further thought: You appear to see Michele Morgan as leading lady while I see Madeleine Renaud in that position. Not that there is anything wrong with either. The picture scores high with me.

Lasso The Movies said...

I have seen this film twice in the last week and I am blown away with its overwhelming brilliance. I have actually invited people over this weekend to watch it yet again. The story is complicated and simple and the same time. Every character seems like someone that I know. I have enjoyed it tremendously and I hope many others get to see it as well. Thanks for the post.

D Cairns said...

So glad you've discovered Gremillon, who seems tailor-made to your tastes. I have to see the films in the Criterion set now.

For further viewing, La Petite Lise is a harrowing masterpiece, redeemed from despair only by the beauty of its cinematic storytelling. Questionable whether anyone could survive a double bill of that and Duvivier's David Golder.

Vanwall said...

With a family connection in the in-laws' past, I cannot pass any Gabin movie by. "Remorques" has a heady, almost giddy romantic aspect, a somewhat Hollywood style to it. Grémillon is an excellent technical director, who also gets affecting performances from his actors. I'll have to snag this set.

gmoke said...

"David Golder" is a brutal little book. The movie would be interesting to see.

X. Trapnel said...

Stefan Zweig's novella "Downfall of the Heart," written two years before David Golder tells virtually the same story but without the brutality. As Zweig was (and is) very popular in France I wonder if Irene Nemirovsky had read it. Her likewise brutal story Le Bal was the source for the first film of the 13-year-old Danielle Darrieux who on getting the part joyfully burst out with "I don't have to go to school anymore!" Adorable, then and ever after.

Yojimboen said...

I don’t have a huge collection of French one-sheets (they take up a lot of wall space) but this half-sheet has been on my study wall for more years than I can remember. Gremillon’s been a secret pash for me since knee-pants when I first saw MM (the real MM); almost as big an obsession as Pagnol and DD.
(She was 14, X, but who’s counting?)

X. Trapnel said...

More like wallet space Y (my L'Atalante half sheet [likewise a man, a woman, and a boat] set me back un bras et une jambe).

Nay, the only MM (apolgies to all those for whom Marjorie Main constitutes such stuff as dreams are made on).

gmoke said...

Poverty preserves the Jews like brine preserves the herrings. [David Golder]

"We must be methodical, my dear.  For a first party, invite anyone and everyone - as many of the sods as you can stand.  When it comes to the second or third you can start to be selective.  This time, we have to invite everyone in sight."

"But if we could at least be sure that everyone would come...  If anyone refused, I think I'd die of shame..."

Kampf grimaced and stifled a laugh.

"If anyone refuses to come, then you'll invite them again the next time, and again the time after that.  What do you want me to say?  In the end, if you want to get ahead in society, you simply have to obey the Gospels religiously."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek...  Society is the best school in which to learn Christian humility."

"I do wonder," said Madame Kampf, somewhat shocked, "where you get all these stupid ideas, my dear." [The Ball]

X. Trapnel said...

Rough stuff. My impression of Nemirovsky is that of a middling to good writer. Jacques Lacretelle's far more sensitive Jewish/French novel of the 30s Silberman remains obscure. Worse, Albert Cohen's extraordinary masterpiece Belle du Seigneur, the greatest of all J/F (ok, it takes place in Geneva) novels (Stendhal meets the Marx Bros.) was published in the 1990s and got little attention and is out of print. It has just been filmed and I'm eager to see it, though the novel cries out for Boyer and Darrieux circa Mayerling as the leads.

Yojimboen said...

Sadly, Belle du Seigneur stars Jonathan Rhys-Myers; in my house he bests even Richard E. Grant and both F.F. Coppola nephews for cringe-inducing absolute awfulness.
Pity, I was also looking forward to the film.

X. Trapnel said...

I googled up some images from Belle du Seigneur only to find glossy people in pretty seetings except where there were pretty people in glossy settings; looks more like a fashion shoot than a film.

gmoke said...

Oh, why do some of us instinctively dislike Jonathan Rhys-Myers? I took one look at his pretty face and went, "Ugh."

Yojimboen said...

The Cobweb's on TCM!!!
Where's our annual curtain discussion??

Vanwall said...

M. Yo - I thought about it while making making someone who'd never seen it before watch it tonite. The unintended, cringe-worthy humor was still there, but this is prolly the last time I'll sit thru it. It's curtains for you, pal.

Yojimboen said...

Ehh... You'll be back!

The Siren said...

Did I ever post my entire "Cobweb" piece from the late lamented Nomad Widescreen? If not I suppose I should.

There are those who consider it an auteurist masterpiece and I am not one of them. It has a lot of things to recommend it, but they don't hang together in my view.

Dadgumit I *will* post the whole thing, just for fun. It's around here somewhere, probably hidden behind the

(drumroll)

sofa. Why, what did you think I was going to say?

Trish said...

Good lord, how did I miss this post???