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Casque D'Or  [Blu-ray]
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Casque D'Or is a 1952 French film directed by Jacques Becker (Touchez pas au Grisbi). Evoking the Belle Époque period perfectly, this story of an ill-fated love affair stars Simone Signoret (Room At The Top, Les Diaboliques) as Marie and Serge Reggiani (Les Miserable, The Pianist) as Manda. When gangster’s moll Marie falls for reformed criminal Manda their passion incites an underworld rivalry that leads to treachery and tragedy.
- Featurette – ‘At the Heart of Emotions – the Legend of Golden Marie’
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StudioCanal's Blu-ray release offers a very impressive transfer marred only by their passion for really tiny subtitles, though curiously they've not included any of the extras from their earlier French release (home movie footage and audio interview with Serge Reggiani, stills and poster gallery and original theatrical trailer), offering only a new half-hour documentary on the film instead. Luckily this turns out to be surprisingly good, detailing the production problems (the film was stalled for years because of a dispute between Julien Dvivier and Becker over who had the right to direct it), the development of the script from a Louis Javert crime movie to a doomed romance and it's poor initial reception at the French box-office and from the critics before its international success prompted local audiences to take another look. Along with extensive interview footage with assistant director Alain Jessua, it also offers extracts from audio interviews with Reggiani, Signoret, Becker and Jean Renoir as well as incorporating part of the trailer.
underworld at the turn of the 20th century.
The complex, layered relationships, and subtle manipulations and
interplay between the characters show the hallmark of all Jacques
Becker's work, an interest in the subtle details of human behavior and
emotion, instead of grand, sweeping, complex plots.
Both romantic and cynical, and filmed without any attempt to create a
cliché 'period' look, this brings an air of reality and immediacy to a
story that in other hands seem familiar, maudlin, or trite.
He worked under Renoir for many years and in many ways is very much in his tradition. Casque d'Or is his masterpiece, but some would argue that the mose Bresson-like Le Trou equally has claims for that accolade.
The film is based on a true story of
The climax has the gut-renching quality of almost documentary. Indeed the period detail is so good that if someone told me that Becker and his crew went back to 1900 in a time-machine and it was a documentary, I would almost believe them. It's that convincing. Even down to the rather fuller-figure gangsters molls that were thoroughly in-keeping with the taste and fashion of the day. If it was remade today by Hollywood or the BBC, God forbid, they would never find star actresses big enough to play the roles. These women didn't work out at the gym and their diet and lifestyle meant that they quickly put on weight. Not un-like the legendary Signouret, who God bless her ate, drank and smoked and lived her life to the full so that within fifteen years she could play over-weight old women with authenticity and conviction.
Here, Simone Signouret was never lovelier, or more earthily attractive, as she takes her breakast
bowl of coffee in her diaphanous white nightdress. Here, Becker uses the interior leading seemlessly to the exterior, found in his mentor Renoir's, Une partie de campagne, and later borrowed by Truffaut, that can only come with the authenticity of location shooting, rather than the usual industry practice of cobbling together filmed exteriors with studio interiors.
I won't go into the plot, enjoy that if it's new to you, suffice to say that it's a deeply romantic love story of doomed lovers, every bit in the same league as Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights.
Apart from the charismatic leads, it is peopled by a superb cast of villains and quirky eccentrics.
Much of it is filmed in the actual real-life locations, in ,the traditional working-class districts of eastern Paris, Bellville and Menilmontant, just before most of it was redeveloped, the outskirts and along the river.
The music is lovely and moving and the swirling waltz theme is quite rightly famous.
Unless you're a died-in-the-wool francophile, you might not have heard of Jacques Becker, who is easily on a par with the very best or Renoir, Vigo and Carne and Truffaut, and do yourself a favour and discover a completely accessible and unforgettable, timeless classic of French humanism and world cinema.
Now I hope that Canalplus think that the English-speaking world is ready for one of the last great hidden secrets of French cinema: Sacha Guitry, hitherto only available on expensive boxed sets and un-subtitled releases.
* For lovers of Westerns, not the North-American tribe but the name given to Parisian gangsters in the late 19th century, though there's absolutely no reason why fans of the wild west wouldn't enjoy it. After all, Paris was extremely wild at that particular time, and most other times, for that matter.