Poil de carotte (Julien Duvivier, France, 1932)

poil

An astonishing moment of melodrama in Duvivier’s Poile de carotte  (see below) where the eponymous hero, a young child,  rages against the conditions of his life: his mother hates and abuses him; his father is indifferent; his siblings are favoured. A family, he tells his father, should be made up of those one loves and those that love one. But that´s not his own situation. Whilst he watches everyone else give and receive love, he alone seems exempt, alone in the world and raging. It’s an extraordinary moment of child rage followed by an equally extraordinary dramatisation of child abuse on film that is depicted as  both physical and psychic.

 

 

The rest of the film will show how a child is driven to suicide and how that suicide is avoided. I don´t hink I´ve ever seen anything like it on film., particularly since its darkness is layered over with the picaresque, thus rendering it amusing and likeable. It´s an incredible achievement of tone, beautifully visualised by Duvivier, with lyrical dream sequences where the child´s inner self eggs him on to off himself.  A powerful film in spite of some weaknesses in the performances by the children and the mother (Robert Lynen, Simone Aubry). Still the great Harry Baur plays the father and is a joy to see.

11 thoughts on “Poil de carotte (Julien Duvivier, France, 1932)

  1. I agree entirely with you. This is a truly classic film and the ‘nobody will ever love me’ scene is stunningly well done for an 88 years old film. 12 years old Robert Lynen’s performance is truly outstanding and he caused such a sensation in France when the film was released in November, 1932, that the film ran for a whole year in Paris, something that was unheard of during the depression. Robert came to such a tragic end. When World War Two broke out and France was overrun and occupied by the Germans, he joined the French resistance and was eventually captured by the Gestapo, tortured and executed a month before his 24th birthday. He was a very brave and heroic person. A true hero, as were the 14 members of the resistance who were executed along with him. I have a book of his life story and, although there are some excellent photos in it, the text is in French and I can’t read French. David Rayner, Stoke on Trent, England, UK.

      1. Thank you, but as I can’t read any of the book, I can’t read the paragraphs. The captions underneath the photos, being short, have been easy to translate using Google Translate. The book, a biography of Robert Lynen, is 224 pages long and published in France in 2002 under the title Vie et mort de Poil de Carotte (Life and Death of Carrot Hair) by Franciose Charles and can be found on amazon. I don’t know of any English edition of the book. Maybe the publishers thought that no one outside France would be interested in it. David Rayner, Stoke on Trent, England, UK.

  2. I’ve found the locations for Poil de Carotte on a French website. It was filmed in the hot summer of 1932 in the picturesque village of Collanges la Rouge in the province of Correze in southern France and in the town of Tulle in Correze. There is a panoramic view of the town where Francois Lepic is leap frogging a row of boys and the camera is tracking him right to left. I had to copy bits of the article and translate them one bit at a time using Google Translate to find out what the article said. It doesn’t say where the stream was or the godfather’s farm or the country lane where the frantic ride of Francois and the maid took place in that horse and trap. But I imagine they were in the countryside around Collanges la Rouge. Modern photos on the website show the locations to look much the same now as they did in 1932. David Rayner, Stoke on Trent, England. Here is the link:

    https://www.lamontagne.fr/brive-la-gaillarde-19100/loisirs/le-tournage-de-poil-de-carotte-en-1932-a-plante-les-graines-du-cinema-a-collonges-la-rouge-correze_13607203/

  3. I’ve been doing a bit of research on “Poil de Carotte” and in October, 1933, eleven months after it had been premiered in Paris, a British premiere in London was on the cards. But the British Board of Film Censors rejected it and refused it a certificate, effectively banning it from being shown in British cinemas.

    However, the London County Council had the power to override the BBFC decision and allowed it to be premiered at the Empire, Leicester Square.

    On Monday, October 30th, Robert Lynen and his mother, Mildred, flew from Paris to Croydon aerodrome in Surrey (then the main aerodrome serving London), to attend the premiere. I have a photo of them arriving at Croydon on that day. So the film got a showing at one cinema in London at least. But whether it was ever shown outside that one cinema in the West End is rather doubtful.

    I imagine that the BBFC’s main reason for refusing the film a certificate could have been that they didn’t want children to see the boy trying to hang himself and imitating what they saw him do on screen. Could this still be the reason why there has never been a British DVD release of the film?

  4. I recently bought a very expensive, though worth every penny, hardback book entitled “The Moving Picture Boy Gallery”, compiled by Paul Sutton from the John Holmstrom collection and, amid all the star portraits and stills of the boy stars, there is a section containing photos of ancient newspaper cuttings. One of these, dated Tuesday, May 28th, 1935, has the headline “Father Of Kid Star Suicides Of Hunger” and goes on to say that the father of France’s biggest child star, Robert Lynen (also named Robert and a painter aged 60) committed suicide on Sunday, May 26th, by jumping from a fifth floor window in Paris, France.

    How on earth did such a tragedy come about, killing himself rather than starve to death when his young son was a famous film star earning a lot of money? There is a bit of a mystery here. Could Robert Lynen Jr’s parents have been separated for some reason and is that why we only see photos of Robert Jr accompanied by his mother attending premieres and not both parents? I feel that the answer may lye in the biography of Robert the film star, which I mentioned a few posts above, but with it all being printed in French and therefore making it unreadable for me, I am unable to find out.

  5. I’ve found the chapter in the book that deals with the tragedy. At present, I am copying the French text letter by letter, word by word, doing one paragraph at a time and copying it into Microsoft Word, then pasting that into Google Translate to turn the French into English. The tragedy happened at de Rue de Alesia in Paris. He jumped from his apartment on the top (sixth) floor and landed outside a pharmacy. Both the apartment block and the pharmacy are still there today. He was 62 when he died, not 60 as reported in the paper. The day before he died, according to the text, in total dismay, he wrote to a close friend of his telling him that he had nothing to live on and begging him to get his wife Mildred and son Robert to visit him, but he didn’t wait for an answer. I intend to translate the rest of it, although there must be an easier and quicker way of doing it.

  6. Thank you, but I’ll persevere with the way I’m doing it. I could easily scan the five and a bit pages in the chapter, but there’s no way I could paste in the jpeg images on here. In the book there must be information on Robert Lynen Jr’s early life and on how he met Duvivier and came to be chosen for such a starring role in such an important film and also on how he came later on to join the French resistance and his exploits in it and the very dangerous missions he was sent on.. But the book has over 200 pages and many chapters. It would take a year at least for me to translate it all.

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