Tag Archives: Michel Simon

La Fin du jour/ The End of the Day (Julien Duvivier, France, 1939)

la fin

 

Anyone who loves actors and acting will be charmed by this paean to the profession from Julien Duvivier. The story revolves around three actors, too old to work and too poor to retire independently, who end up on charity at the  Old Folks Homes for theatre folk provided by the profession. One of the joys of watching the film is to admire the different registers each of the actors play in.

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Louis Jouvet, both extremely stylised and yet understated plays Monsieur St. Clair, a matinee idol, great star of drawing room comedy and melodrama, a gambler in love with love, who trails a history of broken hearts and suicides behind him. Half the elderly ladies in the retirement home seem to have had a fling with him at some point, often a highlight of their lives. He can´t remember any of them, including that of a woman wo bore him a son, but loves them all.  He´s all shoulders backwards, nose in the air, performing on and off the stage, re-sending himself letters he once truly did receive. Can he get at least one more romantic girl to commit suicide over him before he dies?

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Victor Francy is Marny, an actor worshipped by the profession for his handling of the classics, a darling of the critics, but also someone who never quite became a star and has turned dour, judgmental, closed-in and bitter . Marny despises Monsieur St. Clair for running off with his wife many years before, an adventure that resulted in her death, probably by suicide. Marny is a prig with a chip on his shoulder, far too easy to rile, always in a bad mood. Victor Francy, though always competent and believable, is simply not up to the heights of his two other co-stars.

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The great Michel Simon is a wonder as Cabrissade, perennially an understudy, perennially a bit player: did he just never get the opportunity or was he not as talented a he thinks? Whatever, his is the spirit of fun, and anarchy and daring: very comparable to Monsieur St. Clare in many ways — the love of the profession, the love of adventure — but with Cassibride less selfish, less self-involved, more ethical, much kinder. That said, nothing is going to get in the way of his final chance.

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The film is full of show-business lore, the peccadilloes, the competition, the little resentments, the hierarchies, the love for the theatre. There is also much sadness and this is in many ways a bleak film: people are selfish, greedy, no good. But they´re romantic and foolish also, devoting their life to something that is beyond the instrumental: they love the applause but they also believe in the power of theatre to change people and change society. This redeems them in their eyes and the film suggests it should in ours as well.

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Duvivier frames everything beautifully, keeps everything moving at a clip, and if anyone has doubts about how truly wondrous he can be with actors just look at Jouvet and Simon here. What skill, how they dazzle, two performances that could hardly be more different but could hardly be bettered.

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This is the third film I´ve seen (Marie-Octobre and La Belle equipe are the others) in a handsome series of French classics restored by Pathe and available on 1080 blu-ray from the 4k restoration. They all have very good English sub-titling, which surprised me.

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The film won Best Foreign Film at the 1939 National Board of Review Awards, and came second at the 1939 New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

Panique (Julien Duvivier, France, 1946)

 

Panique-Criterion-Blu-RayAnother adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel (Les Fiançailles de M. Hire),  a great film,  Duvivier´s first upon returning to France from Hollywood after the war, a noir, and a huge big flop at the time of its release. And one can understand why.

The film begins with a close-up of a pair of feet, pans past a hobo´s body, and rests momentarily on his face. No that´s not the Boudou who was saved from drowning in Renoir´s 1932 film. But as the camera pans back we see the actor who played him, Michel Simon, snatching a picture of this. In Panique Simon plays Monsieur Hire, a man who keeps to himself, is abrupt and without small talk, and a bit mysterious. Patrice Leconte remade Panique in 1986 as Monsieur Hire. I haven´t seen it but I´d be very surprised if it were any better than this.

The film has a characteristic camera move: a dollying back to demonstrate context or a dollying in to move the public sphere into the personal and private. And context,; the neighbourhood, the mob, the French, their narrowness, smugness, hypocrisy and murderousness is the theme of Panique. It´s no surprise the French didn´t like it. They´re not very well reflected in it.

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At the beginning of the film, after the neighbours and neighbourhood have been introduced, we get shown a pair of shoes. When they see them, the binmen react as if they´ve won the lottery. But the shoes are attached to a body. Who killed Mme Noblet. Was it Monsiur Hire? He certainly seems more preoccupied with the ripeness of his camembert than with the death of a person when he hears the news.

 

As all this is taking place, a woman comes to the hotel Monsieur Hire lives in. We soon learn that it´s Alice (Viviane Romance), who´s just come out of jail after taking the rap for her lover Alfred (Paul Bernard).  They´ve got to pretend not to know each other but their first and secret re-union by the side of the church, in large, looming closeups, intensely lit, as rather funereal music wafts in from the Church, indicates the depth and intensity of their passion. They´ve got to pretend not to know each other but will meet as if for the first time the next day.

 

Alice goes to stay at the same hotel as Hire. His room is one floor up and overlooking hers. She finds this creepy. Indeed the whole neighbourhood finds this solitary man so. Even his being nice to children in the neighbourhood is interpreted as the predatory grooming of a child molester.

Hire has two problems. Firstly, he is hiding many things: His real name is Desirée Hirovitch, a jew who doesn´t want others to know his identity or his past (and for good reason: The film is set in 46). He also works as Dr. Vargas, though he seems to be only a doctor of horoscopes; lastly he used to be a lawyer with a comfortable house in the country he left abruptly the day his wife ran off with his best friend. Though I´m sure family breakups and abrupt departures for people named Hrovitch had other connotations in 1946.  The second  problem Hire has is that he´s fallen for Alice, opens himself up completely to her, and she uses this knowledge to get the man she loves off the hook for the murder he´s committed.

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Things heat up, get out of control and murderous, when the Carnival takes over the neighbourhood.

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And the lighting in some of the shots could be taken straight out of an American noir of the period:

 

What begins as a whodunnit ends as social commentary. There are some scenes that are just extraordinary. Hire alone in the bumper-cars at the carnival, being crashed into by everyone. All these crude, smug couples, laughing at the violence they´re doing to a lonely old man. And then the extraordinary ending where Alice plants Mme Noblet´s purse in Hire´s room, and manoeuvres with her killer lover to turns the whole neighbourhood, — all to willing to believe the worst — against him, thus turning herself into a defacto killer….for Love. . The fat butcher, the smug tax man, the local hooker, the gossipy neighbours, all collaborate in killing this poor lonely jew who somehow managed to survive the Occupation. It´s a condemnation of collaboration, of social hypocrisy, of petit bourgeois culture, of intolerance.

 

It´s an incredible film with a soft, quite, knowing, sad and all too human performance, a truly great one, from Michel Simon as a man who closes himself off due to having suffered too much from love only open himself up to it once more and be killed for it.

It´s out now in a newly sub-titled and great looking version from Criterion.

 

 

José Arroyo