on 20 March 2012
A film which seems to have evaded rating as a classic french film of the Golden Age is, nonetheless, one that gave me an immense amount of pleasure when I eventually saw it. Designed as a vehicle for Annabella, she is very good, but does not really stand a chance against Arletty as the prostitute under the protection of the murderer Louis Jouvet. The scenes between Arletty and Jouvet are so good that you tend to forget about Jean-Pierre Aumont feeling very sorry for himself in prison (for having shot Annabella in a failed suicide pact). The supporting cast is full of the great actors and actresses that seemed to people the French films of that era. And what an era it was. To think that 1938 also had two of Gabin's greatest films, "La Bete Humaine" and "Quai des Brumes" plus Raimu in "La Femme du Boulanger", Renoir's "La Marseillaise" - now that is a Golden Age!
But, here you can enjoy the wonderful Louis Jouvet in all his glory(what a shame he left it until late in his career to leave a cinematic legacy to equal his reputation on stage)and Arletty, shortly to appear in "Le Jour Se Leve" and "Les Visiteurs du Soir" on the way to her great triumph in "Les Enfants du Paradis". To hear her speak here is the equivalent of listening to Edith Piaf at her most Parisian. Fascinating and almost incomprehensible, even with the script beside you, but what a great presence on the screen. Of Arletty and Jouvet, it is not too much to use the old cliche that "You will never see anything like this again", but it is, nonetheless, true here.
Sandwiched between Quai des Brumes and Le Jour Se Leve and with a plot beginning and ending with acts of suicide, Hotel Du Nord is in many ways the lightest of Marcel Carne's classic poetic realist movies - at least some characters get a happy ending here. Although a quite lavish production, this is no Grand Hotel exercise in glamour, following instead the thwarted lives and loves of the occupants of a small hotel by the side of Paris' Canal Saint-Martin (in reality built on the studio backlot). At times it almost feels like a Jean Renoir film, never judging its characters but allowing them the occasional moments of hope that make their lives worth living.
The film does at times feel a little unbalanced by the shift of emphasis from the would-be doomed lovers to Arletty's streetwalker and even more by Louis Jouvert's pimp who disastrously briefly discovers his true self (a performance compelling and powerful enough to make you regret the fact that Jouvert chose to make so few films), while co-writer Henri Jeansen's dislike of Jean Pierre Aumont does mean he's too busy describing himself as a piece of merde to display his usual screen charisma, yet the film is such a marvellous match of style and content that you willing go along with the film's ebb and flow. With Louis Née and Armand Thirard's gliding camerawork complimenting Alexandre Trauner's truly amazing set while Maurice Jaubert effectively reuses part of his score that had been dropped from the reissue prints of L'Atalante on the soundtrack, it's practically a masterclass in pre-war French cinema. And the ending - with one character announcing the end of the Hotel Du Nord and the coming Jour se Leve - is a neat touch that feels just right rather than just showing off.
Soda's DVD is highly recommended, offering a good 18-minute introduction by Paul Ryan and a beautiful print that looks like the film was made only yesterday.
on 12 February 2009
This classic among French poetic realist films of the mid-1930s was adapted from a 1929 novel by Eugene Dabit. Director Marcel Carné, best-known a decade later for CHILDREN OF PARADISE, added major star-power(Annabella, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Arletty, and Louis Jouvet)to turn Dabit's populist novel toward melodrama. Arletty's retort to Jouvet -- "Atmosphere? Atmosphere? Do I look like an atmosphere kind of girl?" (Atmosphère, atmosphère, est-ce-que j'ai une gueule d'atmosphère?)is justly memorable. Image quality and subtitles on this DVD are superb.
on 30 March 2015
I liked the film but I had imagined Arletty would be as beautiful as she was in Les Enfants de Paradis, and she is not.She's still very good in her part but not particularly beautiful, and the film itself is engrossing. Like so many French films of that era however, and film noir in general, the ending is bittersweet, if not sour and I am irritated by the film's failure to give motive for action in what amounts to a virtual suicide late in the film.
Although it is generally accepted that the genre ‘film noir’ reached its heyday in the Hollywood films of the 40s and 50s (such as Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon, Out Of The Past, etc) and had its roots in German expressionist cinema, this classic Marcel Carné film of 1938 also exhibits many of the genre’s key ingredients (along with its 'poetic realism’ heritage), and its 'Frenchness’ lends it unquantifiable additional qualities in terms of mystery, romance and evocation. Sandwiched as the film was between Carné’s other works Le Quai des Brumes and Le Jour se Lève, all three have dark, fatalistic themes (suicide, adultery, murder, etc), are shot in brilliant (often claustrophobic) black-and-white (in Hotel du Nord’s case by Louis Née and Armand Thirard) and have a whole host of outstanding character performances. What also sets Hotel du Nord apart (and well above, in my view) the vast majority of other 'noirs’ is its razor sharp, darkly comic (and frequently highly risqué) script, courtesy of Jean Aurenche and Henri Jeanson.
Acting-wise, Carné strikes gold here, intertwining the two stories of Arletty’s typically film-stealing turn as the boisterous prostitute Raymonde and her pimp (with an even darker past) Louis Jouvet’s stern Edmond, with smitten, and retiring, lovers, Annabella’s increasingly charming Renée and Jean-Pierre Aumont’s Pierre whose suicide pact the pair intend to carry out at the film’s titular hotel. Setting up his film, Carné brilliantly illustrates the gulf between the two couples’ troubled outlook on life with the apparent positivity of the celebratory communion dinner for young Lucette at the family-run hotel of the film’s title. However, this positivity masks underlying traits of deception and promiscuity among Carné’s more ‘respectable’ characters as Bernard Blier’s deluded husband (and lock-keeper), Prosper, discovers his partner’s infidelity. One of the film’s greatest strengths is the way it is filled with great 'character turns’, whether they be outspoken doctors, nurses or policemen. In additon, Carné’s film demonstrates the 'liberalness’ of French cinema of the time (as compared with Hollywood) as Raymonde openly discusses details of her trade and 'flashes the flesh’ brazenly.
Visually, Hotel du Nord is nothing short of stunning, from the film’s opening, long and spectacular tracking shot of Renée and Pierre crossing a canal bridge before sitting on a bench (on the film’s spectacular studio set), through the superb scene of the lovers discussing their intended fate in their secluded hotel room (with great close-ups of the stunning Annabella) to the film’s intoxicating closing sequence (reminding me of something like a cross between the endings of Le Jour Se Lève and Carné’s masterpiece Les Enfants Du Paradis) during the Bastille Day festival. (As an aside, Carné (and his script-writers’) interpretation of his two suicidal lovers creates an almost Hitchockian take on the relationship between love and death). Arletty and Jouvet’s performances here are, for me, particular highlights, the former maybe predictably, but equally Jouvet is great as the sombre, reluctant romantic, in a role tailor-made for Jean Gabin (not far removed from those he had in Brumes and Lève), but one which Jouvet makes most definitely his own. Indeed, Jouvet and Arletty’s feisty sparring here could easily be viewed as a forerunner of Bogart and Bacall in their equivalent 'noir roles’. A mention should also be made of (regular Carné collaborator) Maurice Jaubert’s intoxicating score for the film (which 'borrowed’ from his original music for Jean Vigo’s l’Atalante).
Hotel du Jour is a brilliantly written, acted and shot piece of cinema and came in the middle of a period of outstanding creativity for its director (one of France’s finest ever), Marcel Carné, and comes highly recommended.