9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Existential French Film Noir at its best,
This review is from: Quai Des Brumes [DVD] (DVD)
In Marcel Carné's visually stunning black & white film we follow Jean, a deserter who arrives at night in the northern French port town of Le Havre, looking to leave French shores for good. Jean is your classic outsider. He gets lucky whilst waiting around for a ship to take him to Venezuela: he gets civilian clothes, a little bit of money, a passport, a dog, and he also falls in love with Nelly (played by the stunningly beautiful Michéle Morgan) - a 17-year-old desperate to escape the clutches of her lecherous godfather, Zabel. In your typical film noir, Nelly would be the femme fatale - but Carné makes her too innocent to be one. Although she is the object of lust of various men including her (missing) boyfriend Maurice, her protector Zabel, and the local wannabe-gangster, Lucien, she exudes an innocence not found in your classic maneater.
Understandably, Jean falls deeply for Nelly. Their gradual domestication is symbolised by the their walking around together along the streets of Le Havre. Nelly stops to buy their (stray) dog a collar and lead. But is this domestic bliss between the lovers doomed? Does Jean anticipate a sad end for the couple by saying that the dog doesn't like the collar - it prefers to be free? Jean's ship is leaving for Venezuela in a matter of hours, but he's in love with Nelly. Will he leave her behind? Or is visiting the port-side dive bar, Panama's, the closest he'll get to Central/Sth America?
So much for the plot, but there is so much else in this beautifully harsh film. On the surface 'Le Quai des brumes' is your classic film noir: the outsider on the run; the gangsters; the femme fatale etc. But Carné plays with these tropes and adds another layer. There are discussions on art, war, and death to name but a few. For example, Jean meets an artist who comments that, "You have to be an idiot to go on living with such discontent, such anxiety." And Jean later has a heated discussion with the captain of the Venezuelan-bound ship on cubism:
"You're not a Cubist, are you?"
"Cubist? Of course not."
"Thank God. Cubism's not my thing."
Not your typical film noir dialogue, and it is all the more refreshing for it - even after all these years (the film was made over 70 years ago).
'Le Quai des Brumes' is existential film noir, par excellence. Highly recommended.