(Marcel Carne, France, 1939) 93 minutes


Director: Marcel Carne
Screenplay: Jacques Prevert
Based on a story by Jacques Viot
Cinematography: Philippe Agostini, Andre Bac
Editor: Rene Le Henaff
Sound: Armand Petitjean
Music: Maurice Jaubert
Jean Gabin (Francois)
Jules Berry (Valentin)
Jacqueline Laurent (Francoise)
Arletty (Clara)
Rene Genin (Concierge)
Maddy Berry (His wife)
Bernard Blier (Gaston)

Reviews and notes

Possibly the best of the Carne-Prevert films, certainly their collaboration at its most classically pure, with Gabin a dead man from the outset as his honest foundry worker, hounded into jealousy and murder by a cynical seducer, holes up with a gun in an attic surrounded by police, remembering in flashback how it all started while he waits for the end. Fritz Lang might have given ineluctable fate a sharper edge (less poetry, more doom), but he couldn't have bettered the performances from Gabin, Berry, Arletty, and (as the subject of Gabin's romantic agony) Laurent.
- Tom Milne, Time Out Film Guide.

Andre Bazin has written: "A tragedy of purity and loneliness... Carne's realism, while based completely on the versimilitude of its background, is charged poetically, not only by being modified formally and pictorially (as in German expressionism) but in allowing the inherent poetry to free itself and in drawing out the heart of the drama. It is in this sense that one can speak of 'poetic realism.'

The perfection of LE JOUR SE LEVE is that its symbolism never outweighs its realism but rather is complementary to it... Despite its structure and realistic appearance, the film is nothing less than a psychological, or even a social, drama. As with tragedy, the real meaning of its story and its characters is metaphysical. However, this is only precisely valid and convincing in proportion to its realism. And the realism of LE JOUR SE LEVE has the rigor of a poem. Everything is written in verse or at least in a prose invisibly poetic."

Released only a few weeks before the war (June 17, 1939), this film, more than any other by Carne and Prevert, carries a feeling in its opening sequences that its protagonist, "a nice young fellow," is irredeemably trapped by destiny (symbolized by a blind man) and cannot escape his death. Gabin, in one of his best performances, is a hero "from a working-class, suburban Thebes, in which the gods amuse themselves with blind orders, but where everything is also transcended by society" (Andre Bazin). The influence of German Kammerspiel is evident, but the tragedy is presented in quite a different style. The flashbacks (at one time abandoned by the scriptwriters) are subtly used. Every detail of Trauner's sets expresses a state of mind.

Although it was banned as demoralizing by the French military censor in September 1939, during the war it had a wide release abroad and exerted a profound influence in Britain, the USA, Sweden, and other countries.
- Georges Sadoul, translated by Peter Morris, Dictionary of Films, University of California Press, 1972.

Weblink: Review by Guy Savage

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