Jean Grémillon

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david hare
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Jean Grémillon

#1 Post by david hare » Sat Dec 03, 2005 11:49 pm

Jean Grémillon (1898 - 1959)

FILMOGRAPHY

SHORTS

Le Revetement des routes (1923)
Chartres (1923)
Le Roulement a billes (1924)
Photogenie mecanique, La (1924)
Les Parfums (1924)
La Fabrication du Fil (1924)
La Fabrication du ciment artificial (1924)
L'Etirage des ampoules Electriques (1924)
Du fil e l'aiguille (1924)
La Biere (1924)
La Naissance des cicognes (1925)
L'electrification da la ligne Paris-Vierzon (1925)
L'education professionelle des conducteurs de tramway (1925)
L'Auvergne (1925)
Les Acteries de la marine et d'Homecoiurt (1925)
La Vie des travailleurs italiens en France (1926)
Un tour au large (1926)
La Croisiere de l'Atalante (1926)
Gratuites (1927)
Bobs (1928)


FEATURES

Maldone (1928)
Gardiens de Phare (1929)
La Petite Lise (1930)
Daïnah la métisse (1931)
Le Petit Babouin (1932)
Pour un Sou d'Amour (1932) DVD Doc. Cinematographique French only
Gonzague (1933)
La Dolorosa (1934) DVD Divisa Spanish subs
Valse Royale (1935)
Pattes de Mouches (1936)
Centinela, alerta! (1937) DVD Divisa Spanish subs
Gueule d'Amour (1937) DVD Rene Chateau no subs
L'Etrange Monsieur Victor (1938)
Remorques (1941) MK2 no subs
Lumiere d'ete (1943)
Le Ciel est e vous (1944)


SHORTS

Le 6 juin e l'aube (1946)
Les Desastres de la guerre (1949)
Les Charmes de l'existence (1949)


FEATURES

L'Etrange Madame X (1951) DVD Rene Chateau no subs
Pattes Blanches (1949)

SHORTS

L'Encyclopedie filmee - alchimie, azur, absence, (1952)
Astrologie ou le miroir de la vie (1952)


FEATURE

L'Amour d'une femme (1954)
SHORTS

La Maison aux images (1955)
André Masson et les quatre éléments (1958)


NON WEB BIOG/CRITICAL RESOURCES

Henri Agel Jean Gremillon (Lherminier OOP French text only)
Genevieve Sellier Jean Gremillon (Meridiens-Kklincksieck French Text only OOP)

Dudley Andrew Mists of Regret (in passim) (Princeton University Press OOP)


WEB RESOURCES

Where are You.. Petite Lise? by Fred Patton

Harvard Film Archive

__________________________
FIRST POST: GUEULE D'AMOUR

Finally, after seeing a copy of this slip through my fingers last June I now have the Rene Chateau VHS version in my hot, fat hands.

First, has anyone else seen this? The RC is of course unsubbed and you need a moderate amount of French literacy to figure the dialogue. Fortunately this is a French film shot largely at Ufa so it benefits from the Klangfilm recording system and the soundtrack is quite clear. Interestingly a lot of it is wild track, in both interiors and exterios.

Before ranting on about it, I am curious to hear from others who know the movie. One aspect, without diminishing Gremillon's achievement at all is the likelihood of influences back and forth from Renoir's earlier work in "opening up" to plein air shooting in Toni; to screenwriter Charles Spaak who also did the diaolgue and/or screeenplay for Renoir's Bas Fonds and Grande Illusion, as well as Gremillon's own M. Victor, and later took over from Prevert on Remorques when Jacques bailed out of that picture.

As Gabin iconography this movie seems to be in part a meditation of Gabin's career/persona to this point -after the archetypal "mec on the lam" character from Duviver et al, and is a turning point for Gabin, leading directly to Bete Humaine the following year. His performance is one of the greatest in movies in Gueule, and Gremillon seems to derive even deeper expression from Mireille Balin than she gives Duvivier for instance in Pepe, or certainly in froth like the 1939 Jean Delannoy Macao, l"Enfer du Jeu.

And then there's the movie. Starting as a light frolic, turning into chamber melodrama, and ending as a pre-Noir with a staggering, heartbreaking final scene, two years before Carne's Le Jour se Leve. And layers and layers of meaning.
Last edited by Anonymous on Mon Feb 18, 2008 10:11 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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Steven H
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#2 Post by Steven H » Sun Dec 04, 2005 8:10 pm

I agree with your sentiments, David. This is definitely a favorite Gremillon of mine, and Gabin's performance is *outstanding*. I don't have a doubt that, at least for me, this trumps Duvivier's Pepe, though my extremely limited french left the film's dialogue impenetrable. English subtitles (or my learning french) would be appreciated.

I notice you didn't bring up the music, which is melodic and enchanting. The soundtrack during Lucien and Madeline's initial walk, which so deftly drifts into the next dancing scene, and then into their subsequent discussion, couldn't be more perfect. The shot of Gabin standing alone in the cafe during a parade seems to stick in my mind.

A little more raw, but his earlier films (the only two I've seen of his from this period) La petite Lise and Pour un sou d'amour are favorites of mine, within his body of work, and I also really enjoyed Lumiere d'ete. I enjoyed Remorques and Pattes Blanches a little less, but just a little. I have a few more of his films to view, which I'm trying to dilute, for appreciation's sake, my high expectations for (especially The Stange Mr. Victor).

My personal ranking would definitely put Gremillon in the same league as Vigo, Cocteau, and Clair, above Duvivier and Carne, but below Renoir. I'm unfamiliar with Feyder or Pagnol's films unfortunately, and either I'm forgetting or haven't seen any other directors work from this era of french film.

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zedz
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#3 Post by zedz » Sun Dec 04, 2005 8:23 pm

The more you talk about this film, David, the more I want to see it! As I've mentioned before, my exposure to Gremillon is limited to Le Ciel est a vous, which is, in my opinion, one of the great French films of the 40s, and one of the most mature treatments of a married relationship from any decade. I'd be dead keen to see more Gremillon.

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david hare
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#4 Post by david hare » Sun Dec 04, 2005 9:47 pm

I keep hoping MoC, or far less likely, Criterion might make a start on Gremillon, but the only candidate already restored seems to be the MK2 unsubbed Remorques. (Which isn't a bad start.)


Thanks Stephen for highlighting the music. Gremillon was a trained musician (there is so little written about him even in French) and he seems to have a hand, if uncredited, in a number of his movies' scores - the score for Remorques is remarkable, indeed seems to have a life of its own - what IS the intended meaning of the wailing cantata choruses (male and female) intoning "Seigneur, Seigneur!" over the last scene of Gabin leaving his dead wife to rejoin the ship?? The score is credited to Roland Manuel but it's hard to believe Gremillon didn't have a hand in it. Another nice link is Madeleine Renaud who turns up again in le Ciel est a Vous and most sublimely, I think, in Lumiere d'Ete.

As for rating - Gremillon forces you to do a serious rethink of 30s and 40s French cinema. I really only "discovered" him aftre re-assessing Carne, whom - in the 30s at least - I now rate much more highly. (Hotel du Nord his finest movie - again a gorgeous MK2 rest. but unsubbed.) Claire has gone down the list (almost a French Mamoulian) and Duvivier while never thought of as major is nonetheless extremely stylish and invigorating in movies like Pepe and la Bandera.

I am finding it more rewarding to view 30s French cinema as an organic subject. There are currents and trends, not entirely director focussed, like Gabin, Spaak and Prevert, the shifting social sands (Renoir travelling from plein air to the "communard" phase to the scathing social satire of la Regle, etc etc etc.) At the moment this whole area is like a gigantic sea and I feel as though I'm discovering all over again.

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david hare
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#5 Post by david hare » Thu Jan 26, 2006 4:46 am

Coming soon to this Brokeback free location (I hope) - some sort of discussion of this negelected Master. Based on a meagre five pictures:

Geuele d'Amour
Remorques
Lumiere d'Ete
Le Ciel est a Vous, and
Pattes Blanches.


Any other comments on other titles welcome.

I was thinking (completely without irony) of re-titling the thread:
Marriage; Passion; Love; Angst (considering I've now been "not" married for 22 years come May.)

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carax09
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#6 Post by carax09 » Thu Jan 26, 2006 12:20 pm

Not to fly off on a merch. tangent, but Hotel Du Nord is being released on dvd in the UK on March 27 by someone called Soda Pictures. It is def one of my most hotly anticipated. Perhaps they have some Gremillon on their event horizon?!

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david hare
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#7 Post by david hare » Thu Jan 26, 2006 4:30 pm

Great news. I hope they use the superb restoration from MK2 which is one of my most played discs. The French Remorques is also MK2, but the others dont' have any DVD releases (bar the early Pour un Sou d'Amour.) All unsubbed of course. Geuele is/was available on a Rene Chateau VHS, and fetching outrageous prices on amazon.fr.

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zedz
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#8 Post by zedz » Wed Feb 01, 2006 4:52 pm

Watching the wonderful Pattes Blanches has given me an opportunity to try and pin down what is so distinctive about Gremillon's style.

Some directors have styles that leap off the screen at you; others are more subtle. It's far easier to discern what's distinctive about Welles or Ophuls than it is with Ford or Renoir, for example, though none of those are particularly difficult to pin down. There are some directors, however, whose individual styles are so close to 'classic' filmmaking that their specialness is almost mysterious. I think of Raoul Walsh as one such director, and Gremillon seems to be another.

Pattes Blanches is a useful film to consider when trying to pin down what is special about Gremillon, partly because it helps to highlight what isnt. Perhaps Gremillon's last-minute attachment to this project make the nature of his directorial contributions more apparent.

Character and Performance

My previous Gremillons (Gueule d'Amour and Le Ciel est a Vous) had struck me as beautifully observed, unexpectedly nuanced character studies conceived within generic, even unpromising, narrative forms. I had thus developed a provisional theory that Gremillon was a particularly gifted director of actors (and he certainly is this, given the three amazing central performances of Gueule), with an unusually detailed and perceptive understanding of character of the kind we see in Renoir.

However, this doesn't strictly apply in Pattes, where the characters remain largely true to their generic identities (the trollop, the repressed maid, the troubled nobleman, the coarse cuckold) and the performances rarely transcend the requirements of those roles (though there are fine details in individual performances, Suzy Delair fills out Odette as fulsomely as she did Jenny in Quai des Orfevres, and the whole point of Arlette Thomas' performance seems to be that she's frozen like a rabbit in headlights). Nevertheless, the resulting film is brilliant and involving from moment to moment. It's even surprising - a surprise in itself given the boilerplate nature of its components. It's easy to imagine the same material presented as drab gothic kitsch, or, in the hands of Resnais or Ruiz, as knowingly deconstructed irony, but Gremillon has a gift for bringing new and unexpected dimensions to very familiar generic material while remaining true to those generic roots - simultaneously fulfilling and transcending genre requirements.

Although the characters in this film verge on stock, and the performances largely remain within the expected generic range of the characters, Gremillon allows the actors to add the occasional unexpected twist to their delivery (such as Jock delivering his 'fishy' speech to Odette laughingly, playfully) or organises scenes in unexpected ways (the great ellipsis of Odette's seduction of Keriadec). He also seems to have the kind of eye / ear for plausible human behaviour that many directors lack when dealing with such stylised material. Thus Odette's attempted seduction of Keriadec at the manor doesn't play as a typical movie seduction scene, but as a prolonged awkward (but nevertheless successful) gaffe. Similarly, the tense Odette / Mimi dynamic respects the social constraints of the characters, and is not blown up into a photogenic catfight. And when seductress Odette is herself seduced by Maurice, Gremillon does not present it as a simplistic ironic reversal: Odette remains powerful and calculating in her other spheres of influence.

Gremillon also organises his characters and narrative to keep us off-guard. In retrospect, the arc of the story is not unusual, but while we're experiencing the narrative, we're kept efficiently off-balance, not knowing which plot strand we'll be following next. Thus, the narrative shifts away from Mimi just when her storyline seems to be reaching a climax (after Odette follows her to the manor); Keriadec's vaunted violence fails to explode after he's plied with drink and provoked. A murder investigation is set up and resolved pretty much off-screen, while our attention is instead directed to the psychological play between the figures involved in that narrative thread. There's a beautiful use of misdirection here which keeps the storylines fresh and the viewer engaged.

He also plays ruthlessly with audience identification. None of his characters are wholly positive or negative, but this doesn't express itself in the usual forms (e.g. the charismatic villain, the flawed hero, the simple reversal in which a bad guy turns out to be a good guy after all). Instead, our level of empathy or distaste for different characters changes constantly throughout the film - from scene to scene but also within scenes.

At the end of the film, the nominal hero and heroine end up together, but there's no sense of triumph. We've seen for most of the film that these two are made for one another, but this isn't a matter of passion overcoming social constraints - it's simply that they're the only characters who can stand one another, and the only ones who have even tried to do the right thing during the film. And one of the characters still doesn't recognise - or doesn't acknowledge - the fit. The other one is so certain that they're made for one another that her pushiness repels us almost as much as it does her prospective partner. These unusual dynamics make for one of the most richly ambivalent 'happy endings' I've seen. In terms of the narrative arc, we're given conventional resolution (the 'lovers' are brought together at the end of the film; the characters who stood in their way are dispatched; a tragic ending is averted; new life begins), but in terms of everything else, Gremillon ruthlessly undercuts that resolution (the characters are still divided by class and history; there's no meeting of minds between them; romantic involvement is deferred if not written off entirely; and to get to this 'happy ending' one of the characters has aired an appallingly masochistic death-wish (“I'll just lie down here and die, if you don't mind [. . .]

EDIT 2010: Have just noticed that the remainder of this very long post (dealing with visual style etc.) has been lost in some past forum glitch. But Herr Schreck quoted a lengthy part of it in a subsequent post, so here's at least some of the missing material:
Visual Style

One thing that's immediately apparent in terms of Gremillon's visual style is his mastery of camera movement. Tracks and pans are very subtly deployed, either in tandem with character movement or in counterpoint to it. There's a beautiful, brief movement when Maurice first catches a glimpse of Odette: as his gaze turns to her, the camera slightly circles around him. Gremillon will also track in slightly when a character makes a telling gesture - a beautiful use of cinematic punctuation that never overstates or imposes the director's interpretation.

Closely related to this is a superb use of punctuating cuts and inserts, as the equivalent of sidelong glances. There's great use of this when Odette arrives at the inn, and we rapidly see (in a series of split-second cuts) everybody's reaction to her. A theory that might bear further exploration is that Gremillon's camera reacts as if it were a character within the film, but without the use of conventional P.O.V. techniques. A lot of his visual techniques seem to mimic the physiology of the human eye - rapid glances rather than lingering 'shots', slight tracks in to telling details rather than extreme close-ups. It gives the film a demotic, grounded human reality, even when the story and characters are so heightened.

Apart from such subtle inflections throughout the film, there are several scenes of conventional splendour. Gremillon makes stunning use of the spectacular landscape, and his moving camera extends to showier crane and tracking shots (Keriadec descending his staircase; Odette and Maurice on the clifftop). I'd also like to note the superb, thematically and emotionally charged, composition where Odette and Mimi are framed in a mirror: Odette showing off her new dress; Mimi (Thomas is in the Irm Herrmann role) at her feet; then Odette leaves the frame, leaving a strikingly asymmetrical composition of poor Mimi squashed into the corner of the frame within the frame

The film's score is pretty conventional throughout (though generally oddly effective), but when Odette encounters Maurice while gathering herbs in the twilight there's a wonderfully effective cue using a female chorus, adding a pagan, hypnotic air to one of the film's most dramatic scenes.

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#9 Post by rwaits » Wed Feb 01, 2006 6:00 pm

Thank you Zedz--I always enjoy these posts.

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david hare
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#10 Post by david hare » Wed Feb 01, 2006 6:49 pm

Zedz I think we need the moderator to modify the thread title to Jean Gremillon or such. Matt?? (EDIT: Thanks Martha!)


Just some filler on Pattes. The quintet of characters is to me not so much "stock" as in large part personae who seem to have wandered into this tale from other streams and directions in French cinema.
"Jock" who brings Suzy Delair (straight from Clouzot) into this seemingly godforsaken Normandian fairytale setting is played by Fernand Ledoux - the inevitable cuckold who of course was the tragically cuckolded husband of Simone Simon in Renoir's Bete Humaine. Paul Bernard as the Noble/Lord son of some mythical regional tyrant is the despised "White Paws" and he seems to inhabit a persona given initial meaning at least by Cocteau's Beast, among others. (In the first two of his scenes, and with his first encounter with Mimi he's shown in two shot with his horse. The hunchback girl Mimi (Arlette Thomas) who sees herself as a Cinderella figure, is the anti-heroine and again referential to Cocteau. Note her scenes in the castle, as Zedz has pointed out, framed in the mirror with Delair, and later Gremillon's shot of Bernard/Julien holding the bridal gown on the clifftop. Finally -in a glance forward to Chabrol twenty years later!!! - Michel Bouquet is the seemingly wasted bastard half brother of "Pattes" and the life force which appears to "liberate" Delair.

Certainly one might credit some of the mythico-fairytale ambience to Anhouil, but I think the atmospherics go deeper. To me anyhow Pattes seems to round out and resolve several trends and thematic subtexts that Gremillon initally sets out in Gueule d'Amour, and certainly Lumiere d'Ete (in which another quintet of souls exist literally on the "edge" of life, on a clifftop in a glass house! And the movie cimaxes with a tragic house party that seems to have evolved from La Regle du Jeu.

Just as Gabin at the end of Gueule d'Amour seems to be setting off for the next step in his persona in Renoir's Bete Humaine (where Fernand Ledoux is in waiting, anticipating his own refinement of characterization in that film, and Gremillon's resurrection of it in Pattes.) And as you watch the foreign soldiers at the end of Gueule assembling after the camera has left Gabin and Lefevre, don't you have the inkling they may be about to set off for the emotional landscape of Toni?

Streams and currents. Themes, subtexts, actors, music. As I mentioned earlier the whole of 30s and 40s French cinema is totally up for revaluation after a viewing of Gremillon.

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david hare
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#11 Post by david hare » Thu Feb 02, 2006 5:24 pm

A very quick post on Gueule (which I have been mis-spelling for a year!)

Without wanting to preempt any discussion on the film proper, a friend who is very familiar with it has been wondering aloud if the movie might not have been even more powerful if the tone of the opening twenty or so minutes - Gabin's "Lover Boy/Hot Lips" phase which ends when he takes up with Balin - had been more astringent. I watched the movie again last night and the first thing that strikes me of course, is the way the movie precipitates from this into another two striking changes in tone - in three parts effectively. I would certainly miss this element if the opening were to have been written more ironically (Charles Spaak) and I can't help noticing the extremely adept mise-en scene - rapid cuts, quick pointed camera movements, elisions of voice over shots. As though Gremillon were very much taking up this Duvivier-like semi-comedic milieu and distilling it stylistically, in anticipation of the next break into domestic melodrama, and of course the final Noir-like climax.

Rich pickings here folks.

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carax09
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#12 Post by carax09 » Fri Feb 03, 2006 2:12 am

I found this article(http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/articles/petit_lise.htm)
about La Petit Lise buried on Gary's site. It sounds utterly captivating from a technical standpoint, although I'm not sure I understand what it's actually about. Zedz? David?

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david hare
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#13 Post by david hare » Fri Feb 03, 2006 2:50 am

Great to hear from you Carax. Will be receieving a print of this next week and it comes with a very warm recommendation. (Again unsubbed but never mind about that.)

I wanted to put an open question to any others interested, or who have seen any Gremillons, given Zedz' very pertinent comments about the uses of "stock" characters and genres in Pattes Blanches, among other things.

Is one of the reasons for Gremillon's virtually invisible reputation the difficulty (at least initially) or defining him formally as an auteur because of this, and his apparent recycling of these formulaic characters, plot events, even actors throughout his movies? I know one view in academe has it he was a victim of blackballing in the French 30s industry - WHY?. There are others of course, but Zedz' discussion of this, and aspects of his mise-en-scene certainly raise questions like these. (The "religiosity" of both scenario and music in Remorques, about which Prevert not unsurprisingly complained is another and one certainly has to puzzle a little about the meanings of the cantata, at the very least, in the final scenes.)

I hope that Zedz and I have given birth to a small marvel, with Steven H coming in as midwife (THIS surely more perverse than any argument in the BBM critico-canon. And MUCH better casting then Heath, Jake and Michelle. )

Bring on the extended family!! And we'll all live in a glass castle at the top of a mountain and re-enact the party from la Regle, with hounds and horses baying at the gate.

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#14 Post by whaleallright » Fri Feb 03, 2006 5:24 pm

It sounds utterly captivating from a technical standpoint, although I'm not sure I understand what it's actually about.
It's about a man who is released from prison after a long stay, only to find his beloved daughter Lise and her thuggish boyfriend implicated in a vicious murder.

The story, like those of several other films directed by Gremillon, is quite sordid. Though what fascinates is not so much the particulars of the story but rather how it is told. The opening minutes of this film are some of the strangest and most captivating in all cinema. What is that music at the beginning? Is it a Berber chant?


Not sure if this has been mentioned above, but a brief clip from La Petite Lise appears in Carax' Mauvais sang. And, when Carax programmed a cycle of films at the Cinematheque last year, he chose to show this film (among others like Lubitsch's "Design for Living" and Guru Dutt's "Paper Flowers").



Image

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carax09
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#15 Post by carax09 » Fri Feb 03, 2006 8:19 pm

Jonah, I remember in MS when Denis Lavant refers to Julie Delpy's character as "mon petite, Lise", but I don't recall the clip. Can you refresh my memory as to where it occurs? Thank you for the summary, I really can't wait to see this---I think it's becoming my new holy grail.
I'm in total agreement with David that we should make it our mission to resurrect Jean Gremillon. I did a little research, and for a biographical blurb I found this in my little pocket edition of "French Film" by Roy Armes:
"The German Occupation played havoc with French film production and Marcel Carne was almost alone among leading directors in staying in France. Renoir, Feyder, Clair, Duvivier, Ophuls all left the country and it became possible for new directors to come to the fore. One of the happier results of this situation was the emergence of Jean Gremillon (1901-59) as a major director.
Gremillon was by no means a newcomer. He began making shorts as early as 1923 and his first feature length fiction film dates to 1926. But even in the thirties he did not fully establish himself as a film-maker in France and he spent much of his time abroad, working in Spain and for the UFA company in Berlin. It was not until 1939 that he had a chance to work with Jean Gabin and Michele Morgan and his film, Remorques, was interrupted for two years by the war. During the Occupation years, however, he was given the oppurtunities he always lacked and responded with two masterly films, Lumiere d'Ete, from a Jacques Prevert script and Le Ciel est a Vous, written by Charles Spaak. Sadly, these proved to be his last real opportunities to make feature films with the necessary degree of freedom, and the last fifteen years of his life had to be devoted largely to making documentary films.
Though these documentaries give a clear indication of his breadth of culture, Gremillon was naturally able to put far more of himself into his best feature films. In these we find a view of society akin to that of Jean Renoir and a social critique expressed obliquely by means of a depiction of the frivolities of the rich (their fancy-dress balls and turbulent romances). Gremillon is also one of the few French directors to depict workers with an instinctive sympathy. His work has a great poetic richness. It is full of unlikely confrontations and characters fantastically contorted by life or driven by secret passions, all translated into images of grat beauty and strangeness. It is one of the tragedies of the French cinema that Gremillon's influence had to be exerted through his personality, rather than through the series of masterly works of which he was clearly capable."
Perhaps it was Gremillon's history with UFA and the fact that he worked during the Occupation that led to his being blackballed. I find it a little odd tha Armes wouldn't just come out and say that, though. He makes it sound like it was more an issue of financing. Well, that's all I got right now, but I'd like to thank everyone for their participation---this is my favorite thread in a good while and I'll get back with some new info soon, but for now it's time for me to go out and get a little contorted by life.

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Steven H
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#16 Post by Steven H » Fri Feb 03, 2006 9:59 pm

Here's a bigger version of that *very* cool poster.

Image

And Gueule d'amour (also gorgeous)

Image

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ben d banana
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#17 Post by ben d banana » Sat Feb 04, 2006 2:30 am

I have nothing worthwhile to add, but I am dying to see more Gremillon after catching a screening of Remorques last year. Only Edvard Munch topped it in my trips to the theater in 05. So many incredible cuts and shots and so much emotion. Keep the hype machine rolling!

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david hare
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#18 Post by david hare » Tue Feb 07, 2006 12:12 am

Just receieved a copy of La Petite Lise and put it on late last night before going to bed to check the quality. 80 minutes later I was in a state of exhilarated shock.

Watching this for the first time is like a first viewing of Vampyr!!!

Just as some of us are thinking we're getting a handle on Gremillon, and aspects of style, mise-en-scene, performance THIS comes along.

His third feature film and one of the first French talkies. It rattles the chain straight off with a soundtrack that is so unique it belongs up there with Lang, Sternberg and Dreyer. The music, as Carax and Jonah mention above is totally unexpected. The movie opens with what seems to be a Berber chant - a rhythmic jazz-like dirge paced wail from a female singer with a recurrent groaning undertone from a male singer. This plays through to the beginning of the opening prison sequence which is composed of more male flesh and fire than the below deck scenes of Eisenstein's Potemkin, and the last major pan across to Alcover (Lise's father) is halted by a startlingly erotic shot of a slightly older man (bare chested as they all are) clutching the forearm of an extremely beautiful younger man As shadow and light altrenate we see that the older prisoner is tatooing a woman's face onto the younger man's arm. Gremillon's camera remains lovingly on this spectacle. The face is of a gamine with betty boop hairstyle style, and looks the world to me like the tat on the younger man's arm in Genet's 1950 un Chant d'Amour!!!!!!

To merely advance the scenario would not be fair at this stage. But some pointers to remarkable shots and devices within the movie. Several times Gremillon shows Alcover embracing his adored daughter. Each time he shoots a little differently, thus in one take Lise gets up onto a bed to hug him while he stands at full height. The actual physical dimensions of the two actors seems to contort and fluctuate according to the light or camera placement, but the effect is always to render the father as an immense all embracing giant to this tiny fragile girl. In her dialogue scenes with both Alcover, and the lover, Andre, Gremillon most often shows the actors from behind, while they talk. At points of sudden scene change, he inserts an enormously loud effects track of a train (at Gare du Nord, given the name of the Hotel) or a plane, never seen. In the final riotous, orgiastic jazz sequence, with pounding music and fenzied dance, Gremillon maintains the hubbub of live track sound from the crowd.

There's too much to digest in one viewing. And one thing I need to sort out is my reaction to the character of "Shalom" the Jewish money lender (at one point he shticks an "Oy Veh! into the dialogue.)

I must say it completely confounds a lot of ideas I had already formed about Gremillon, at least thematically and formally.

Next!!!
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whaleallright
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#19 Post by whaleallright » Tue Feb 07, 2006 4:05 pm

His first feature film
Actually, his Maldone (1928) and Gardiens de phare (1929) are both of feature length.

At points of sudden scene change, he inserts an enormously loud effects track of a train (at Gare du Nord, given the name of the Hotel) or a plane, never seen.
This sort of thing can be found in a few of the more experimental early talkies, for example Mamoulian's Applause. Though Grémillon's film is certainly remarkable for its sustained (through-composed?) experimentation with sound.


Grémillon ran a ciné-club in the 1920s and in that capacity he wrote essays and delivered lectures. Some of these are very interesting, including a talk on Griffith's Broken Blossoms which is also a critique of the musical analogy in Impressionist theory (Epstein, Delluc). Grémillon was very much a cinephile and very much engaged in debates about the possibilities of film. So aside from being the work of a passionate "amateur," Lise is one step toward a realization of some fairly complex ideas about film and musical form.


As for the clip from Lise in Carax' film, I believe it appears on a television at one point, but I'll have to rewatch the film to be sure.
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viciousliar
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#20 Post by viciousliar » Tue Feb 07, 2006 4:15 pm

OT
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david hare
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#21 Post by david hare » Tue Feb 07, 2006 4:17 pm

Thanks Jonah - I should have checked that.

The essays sound fascinating! Are they available in any form? The musical theories are becoming one of the most fascinating aspects of Gremillon for me. Certainly after looking at Gueule again in the light of a friend's hypothesis that the opening comedic tone might have worked better for the whole film if it were more "astringent" I came to the conclusion that becuase of this intended shift in tone the movie takes on a three movement "shape", like a classical (pre Beethoven) Sonata.

Also interesting is the figure of Roland-Manuel. His various scores for Gremillon, including Petite Lise which is obvously no more than an arangement of the opening jazz-dirge, while unremarkable in themselves seem to be inflected by Gremillon's own hand. Roland-Manuel himself is also fascinating if only as a figure in the Musical world. He studied with Satie and went on to coach Jaubert (who himself went on to become a film composer of greater distinction.) Meanwhile R-M fell in with Ravel's inner coterie, and wrote several biblio/biogs of him. Indeed he became the primary reciipient of Ravel's correspondence - material which has been largely unreleased to this day, given the extreme censoriousness of the Ravel estate, in regards to Ravel's supposedly "hidden" homosexuality. There is another story here which I would love to unravel (no pun intended.)

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Steven H
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#22 Post by Steven H » Tue Feb 07, 2006 5:14 pm

Great notes on La Petite Lise. There's an excellent entry in Dudley Andrew's Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film about La Petite Lise, which you can find on print.google.com. Here's an nice excerpt:
A truly experimental piece of cinematic lyricism, La Petite Lise orchestrates it's melodrama like the libretto of an opera, minimally structuring an experience that owes its power to multiple elements of design.
There's also a quoted piece from an essay Henri Langlois wrote entitled "Les Chefs d'oeuvres perdus":
It was 1930. In the local cinema that had just been given a fresh shine. In only a few weeks all had changed: the public and the films, and every Saturday one regretted still more the [silent] cinema that had been lost. It was at this time and place that there appeared on the screen a film which had no exlusive run and because of that , one about which no one had spoken. Armed with sound and speech the cinema once again commanded attention, and created emotion. ... It was in seeing La Petite Lise of Jean Gremillon that I forgot Sous les toits de Paris and stopped regretting the passing of silents. In the history of French cinema. La Petite Lise marks an essential date. It is the first work of a school that after 1936 would definitely come to the fore and make French cinema the best in the world.
I also got a chance to see The Strange M. Victor and the Strange Mme. X, the former of which I *loved*.

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zedz
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#23 Post by zedz » Tue Feb 07, 2006 6:02 pm

I've recently reseen Le Ciel est a vous - for the longest time my only (and cherished) Gremillon experience - so here are some more thoughts.

First off, my attempts to define G's style in Pattes doesn't apply too well to this film. The style here is far less idiosyncratic and far closer to 'classical' French filmmaking. There aren't those glancing, semi-subjective inserts, for example, and overall there's far less action on the montage front. There remain some excellent examples of Gremillon's very subtle, almost subliminal camera movements, however:
- when Marcel comes to the garage in the middle of the night to tell Pierre and Therese about the death of the President, there's a beautifully counterintuitive 'step back' by the camera as Pierre approaches;
- immediately afterwards, in a brief shot of Marcel on his own, there's a tiny 'step forward' just before the cut - very subtle use of visual punctuation to draw the scene to a close;
- in the hangar, at the moment when Therese decides to take to the skies, there's a lovely, delicate camera move, tracking ever so slightly into the couple, then backing ever so slightly off.
All of these movements are all but imperceptible, but they give the film a living, breathing quality.

However, there's lots about Gremillon's camera work in the film that's not subtle, but rather dazzling and flashy. There are plenty of extravagant tracking and crane shots. The amazing opening shot, following dark massed shapes (a flock of sheep, children at play) moving across a bare expanse of land, is almost avant la lettre Jansco. And Gremillon communicates the excitement of the airshow not by placing the camera in the plane, or even in the air, but by fast lateral tracking following Pierre through the running crowd.

In fact, Gremillon is meticulous in keeping his film earthbound, and I think that's one of the things that makes it so unusual and affecting. For a film that's motivated by the exhilaration of flight, he gives us no proxy experience of it. There are no tacky process shots of Therese beaming as the sky swirls behind her, for example, and when characters take to the skies, we stay on the ground with those left behind. This is most striking in the climactic scenes. When Therese's story literally takes off, she vanishes from the film (as the film hits its 'heroic' phase, Gremillon shifts his focus away from the hero) and we're left with the understated drama of Pierre awaiting word of her fate. Then we fade out, not to the resolution of this thread, but to an initially mysterious scene (crowds waiting in the rain at a train station) and prolonged lack of resolution (Pierre returns alone) that Gremillon sustains and sustains (a crowd of concerned people is the last thing he needs when he gets home) and stretches into despair. It's ultimately resolved with an even more mysterious - even surreal - change of scene (camels in the desert).

Throughout the second half of the film, Gremillon studiously avoids the obvious decisions concerning which part of the story to show us, and as a result the film avoids conventional uplift and retains its focus on the remarkable central couple despite the gimmicks of its 'based on a true story' plot.

When I first saw the film, it was the maturity and complexity of the relationship between Pierre and Therese which struck me as the most fresh and surprising thing about the film. Watching it again without subtitles, a lot of that is lost (the discussion in the hotel room, for example, seems much less remarkable without access to the entire dialogue, so I guess we have Spaak's script to thank for that one), but it's also much clearer just how carefully worked out the characters and their performances are. Neither Vanel nor Renaud have conventional movie-star glamour, but they make a radiant couple and convincingly portray a lifetime of familiarity. The elaborate dynamics of their relationship are easy to follow simply from their body language: the way Therese leans her elbow on her big lug of a husband as he talks to a customer; the unreturned look of concern and disorientation Therese has when her husband is bitten by the air bug; how abashed Pierre is when he's 'caught out' flying, and his nervous demeanour in the background of the subsequent scenes, dreading Therese's inevitable, delayed reaction. That scene also provides the perfectly wrong timing for the music teacher's request regarding Jacqueline, and just as in real life, Therese's anger and resentment explodes at the first thing to confront her, rather than the thing which actually caused the resentment.

This brilliant delineation and realisation of the central relationship is what makes the film so romantic, and what prevents that hard-won romance from being swamped by the extraordinary situation in which the characters find themselves.

David is far more articulate on the film's music than I am, and I was interested to find, when looking up the idiosyncratic essay on Gremillon in Roud's Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, that the director was hailed primarily as a pioneer of sound technique. In fact, he was even cited by Jean-Marie Straub as a key influence in that respect (surely not a common accolade!). The essay also writes off all of his output between Lise and Gueule and pays most attention to his post-feature-career shorts.

Back to the sound: there's a breath-taking movie-movie moment in the middle of the film as the Jacqueline / piano subplot is resolved. After Therese's explosion, we cut to a shot of the piano in the corner, which dissolves into an identical shot, sans piano, with the maid sweeping the floor. Over the dissolve is a low, unobtrusive (but notably discordant) piano chord. Fade.

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david hare
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#24 Post by david hare » Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:06 pm

Steven, many thanks for the reference to Mists of Regret. I was able to trawl through a dozen or so pages on google and have ordered the book. Andrews seems to be pursuing the very theme of streams and currents in 30s French cinema that have been preoccupying me since I first saw Gueule a year ago. Was interested to read his brief comments on Carne's Hotel du Nord, and it's place in the era, and Carne's own canon, apart from the pictures with Prevert.

Zedz the Roud books (which I no longer have) seem to reflect the typical received wisdom of the time.

Reading more I am gaining the impresion the spectacular failure of Petite Lise for the producer, and Gremillon's refusal to cowtow on the use of sound made him something of a pariah to the French producers of the day. Hence his enforced reliance on foreign work - in Spain and Germany, the latter of which (Gueule in 37) was apparently so successful he was able to resume a role in the French industry which was of course subsequently dominated by the war and the Occupation. The latter most probably did not leave him in a favorable position with the industry after war's end, despite Cocteau, Bresson, and Carne also remaining in France through the war. Then again, was there an aspect of Gremillon's personality that fatalistically accepted the commission to the Cinematheque, and the relatively mundane task of directing short films, with only a few features, thereafter?

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whaleallright
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#25 Post by whaleallright » Thu Feb 09, 2006 6:58 pm

My understanding from what I've read is that Lise was made during one of numerous periods of transition between producers at Pathé-Natan, the French film industry being in a state of chaos throughout that decade. The film wasn't so much a commercial disappointment as an orphan, having been dumped in very few theaters with little or no promotion by the new producer -- who was no doubt perplexed by what Spaak and Grémillon had put together.

Sellier's monograph (1989) on Grémillon has a good amount of information on the production circumstances of his films, explaining his peripatetic course in the 1930s and his periods of inactivity following the war. Also worth tracking down is an unnumbered issue of the French journal 1895 devoted to Grémillon. See http://www.afrhc.fr/pub_hserie07.htm

Jonathan Rosenbaum has written a review of Lumière d'été and Le Ciel est à vous that discusses (not terribly convincingly) those films' relationship to the Occupation and the Resistance: http://www.chicagoreader.com/movies/arc ... 21025.html
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