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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Crainquebille is a delightful silent film from 1922 that tells the
story of the poor vegetable peddler, Crainquebille, and his troubles
with the law. Because of an altercation with a hard-of-hearing
policeman, Crainquebille is put in jail for two weeks and has to pay a
fine of 50 francs. Unfortunately, his stay in jail cause his former
customers to shun him. Reduced to dire poverty and thrown out of his
garret for non-payment of rent, Crainquebille considers suicide until
he's rescued by a homeless newspaper boy whom he'd befriended earlier.
This simple story, based on a short story by Anatole France, affords the director Jacques Feyder ample opportunity for great visual wizardry, especially in the trial sequence of the film. The viewer sees the proceedings from Crainquebille's perspective. The policeman who testifies against him is made to seem immense and overpowering while Dr. Mathieu, the one witness in Crainquebille's defense, appears literally small and insignificant. Also, there are several shots of the bust of Marie, the French national symbol, staring at Crainquebille disdainfully indicating that the verdict is never in doubt. Especially imaginative is the dream the aforementioned Dr. Mathieu has the night after Crainquebille's trial in which the unjust and farcical character of the trial is underlined with the judges transformed into howling demons leaping up from their chairs. Indeed, Feyder captures Anatole France's sarcastic rage at the injustices of the French legal especially as it applies to the poor.
This film and the accompanying feature, Faces of Children, are the two best films on the three DVD disc set of the early silent films of Jacques Feyder. As the liner notes aptly quote D.W. Griffith, this film is a wonderful evocation of Paris and Parisian life as it existed in the 1920s. Strongly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw 'Crainquebille' in October 2005 at the Cinema Muto festival in
northern Italy ... at which was also screened the film's original
'suppressed' ending. This movie has previously been reviewed for IMDb
by a self-appointed count. (I'd say he's one vowel short of being a
count.) He managed to get several details wrong Crainquebille's
barrow is a pushcart, not an oxcart and has avoided some major
aspects of the story. I viewed the same print (restored by Lobster
Films) which the so-called count claims to have seen. Let's try again,
'Crainquebille' was originally a novel by Anatole France, the pseudonymous French author who was obsessed with justice, law and the rights of the poor. IMDb incorrectly classifies this movie as a fantasy; the movie is a faithful rendering of the novel, which has no fantasy elements apart from a nightmare sequence.
Jerome Crainquebille is an elderly costermonger, just barely making a living off the fruit and vegetables he sells from his barrow. He unintentionally offends a constable, who hauls him off to gaol. Although Crainquebille serves only a brief sentence, this interruption is enough to ruin his barely stable existence. He is soon evicted from his garret and sleeping rough in the street.
The real power of this very powerful film is its unflinchingly honest depiction of the underside of Paris. We see prostitutes who are weather-beaten, sore and ragged. (I'm well weary of movies in which the streetwalkers wear expensive clothes, and have perfect coiffures and makeup.) There are some fascinating shots of Les Halles, the central market. When the pauper Crainquebille is in prison, he discovers that his standard of living has actually got better, not worse: his prison cell has running water, a clean floor, and other conveniences he never knew before.
The only unrealistic scene is Crainquebille's trial, which is surrealistically shown from the hapless defendant's perspective. A prosecution witness turns into a giant, whilst a defence witness dwindles to the size of an insect. The statue of Justice comes to life and rebukes the defendant. The prosecuting advocate is asleep, whilst the defence advocate is filling out his betting slips. Although Anatole France had a deep contempt for his nation's judicial system, he does at least depict the prison governors as honest. Here, when a sympathetic witness tries to give 100 francs to the imprisoned Crainquebille through intermediaries, the money actually does reach him.
The camera-work is impressive throughout this film, not least in the surrealistic trial sequence. Also impressive is Doctor Mathieu's nightmare ... much of which is shown in negative print, so that black and white are reversed.
There is a stark climactic sequence, in which Crainquebille leans over the Seine and contemplates suicide ... only to change his mind when an object plunges into the water ahead of him. This sequence strongly reminded me of the famous scene in 'It's a Wonderful Life' when George Bailey considers drowning himself ... only to change his mind when Clarence plunges into the water. I wonder if Frank Capra saw this movie? Elswhere, there is comedy that's very funny indeed ... but it's the bitter comedy of real life.
SPOILING ALTERNATE ENDING. Also screened at Cinema Muto was the director's original (unedited) ending for this film, which was ultimately scrapped in favour of a more upbeat ending. In this version, we see Crainquebille and his boy assistant outside a posh restaurant. Along comes Madame Laure, the respectable shopwoman who caused so much trouble for Crainquebille earlier ... but now she's a rouged prostitute, with a wealthy customer! The man gives Crainquebille a 100-franc note, which Crainquebille disdainfully tosses into the gutter ... but, as soon as the couple have strolled onward, he discreetly retrieves it. I'll rate 'Crainquebille' a perfect 10 out of 10. The self-appointed 'count' says that a German-French alliance is impossible ... so I recommend the film 'Kameradschaft', a true story about just such an alliance.
There's one thing to note here, the old man's subjective experience of
the courtroom where he's on trial, and later on the nightmare where it
is more vividly relived; figures are unnaturally large or small, blacks
and whites are inverted, and the judges storm from their pedestals
across the room in thunderous slow-motion. It's an arresting sequence
of internal anxieties.
So even though the film has been jotted down in film history as realist - the Parisian marketplace bustling with activity, the sellers pushing their carts down cobble-streets - it is this, impressionist we call it now, inversed look of objective reality from inside the mirror that strikes some spark now.
But compared to what more renowned French filmmakers - Gance, Epstein, L'Herbier - were attempting at the time or were gearing to, it leaves something to be desired. Example: the state prosecutor, whose court rhetorics intimidate the simple old man, is envisioned as gigantic; but Feyder frames him in a full shot that makes the court appear miniscule and the prosecutor normal, which is clearly not what was intended from what the intertitle lets us gather.
So it is all a bit improvised for effect, in an effort, that was taken up in France at the time, to distend cinema from the theatrical point-of-view foisted upon it by the earlier generation of filmmakers.
The moral of the story is actually more interesting; it is not the rigid, surreal system of law and justice that tears the individual, this anomy is endured with quiet, baffled dignity and some measure of ritual fatalism, but the society that bestows a final respect on the word of this system; a collective whole which Feyder reveals to be thoroughly hypocritical, petty, small-minded, and ultimately heartless.
So it is not surprsing that the guardian angel turns out to be a kid; not yet swallowed in this collective cruelty, a person who can see from the heart.
Other than that, there are some lovely evening atmospheres that you may want to see; empty streets lined up with lights, a bridge across an expanse of water. It's all painterly, quite evocative of a sense of place.
'Crainquebille', based on a short story by Anatole France, is a tale that comes straight out of the 'Belly of Paris'. Its main theme is friendship (here between two street vendors: an old peddler and a newsboy) and its opposite, exclusion and hate. The movie exposes the brutal power of the law (the police and the judges), the coldness and cynicism of the bourgeoisie and social ostracism of 'stained' people (even when a trial is rigged and an accused wrongly condemned). The movie excels by its realism (the street and market scenes), by the acting of its main characters and by its emotional impact on the spectator. Akira Kurosawa explained it later so wonderfully: art is not the expression of (the artist's) personal emotions, but the engendering of emotions in the heart of the spectator. In other words, the spectator should really share the joys and pains of the characters on the screen. Therefore, the directing must be focused on 'natural' acting, on doing things 'naturally'. Jacques Feyder knew this all important message instinctively. He was a real master of Art. This movie is a must see for all movie buffs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Crainquebille" is a street vendor who sells vegetables in the heart of Paris, but, when a misunderstanding leads him to be arrested, his security and health decline. The complications leading up to it are somewhat petty and irritating, but interestingly enough, the film has a haunting hold on the viewer with its wistful little score and in watching the lead actor go about his way throughout the boroughs and ways of Paris. You believe in what you see with a good feel for time and place and with good supporting characters throughout the film, most notably a young boy with his dog, who befriends the old man at the end of the film. The film is a bit aloof or distant from the old man's predicament, that is until one desperate act finds him needing and getting help. The last moments make up for any slowness or meticulousness in setting up the film's beginning. By the end of the movie and long after it, you will feel you have witnessed the craftsmanship of a great director and be in awe of the range of the lead actor and how it all came together. "Crainquebille" is a must-see silent film for any serious silent film lover.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you compare this movie to later silent films, it's not an especially
great film due to its very simple plot. However, for 1922 it was very
good and displayed some nice warmth in its portrayal of Crainqubille--a
poor put-upon little man.
The film begins with an orphan living in the streets with his dog. Along comes the old vegetable peddler Crainqubille and he helps the poor lad. Soon after this, a very stupid policeman jails Crainqubille after a silly misunderstanding. To make things worse, Crainqubille seemed intellectually slow and he never really understood what it was all about but just accepted that he MUST deserve to be in jail. Later, when he is released, his old customers refuse to buy from him since he has been in jail! And so, in the end, the same orphan comes to his rescue.
The film has some very interesting elements. First, in the French legal system created by Napoleon, a person is considered guilty until proved innocent and even an eye-witness who is of excellent repute (a doctor) is not given much credence. So Crainquebille is convicted just on the angry policeman's testimony. Also, during these proceedings, in a surreal moment, the statue of justice in the courtroom comes to life and only Crainquebille sees this! This is highly reminiscent of the 1995 film ANTONIA--so it's interesting to see this sort of scene 73 years earlier.
About the only shortcoming is that the film seems overly simplistic and a bit schmaltzy. However, compared to the average film of the day, CRAINQUEBILLE stands up very nicely--offering a good story and some wonderful screen moments.
** 1/2 (out of 4)
French film from director Jacques Feyder about a poor vegetable peddler (Maurice de Feraudy) who has a misunderstanding with a cop and ends up spending two weeks in jail. The peddler was loved by everyone but when he's released from prison he finds that everyone has turned their backs on him. There's a lot to like about this film but at the same time there's a lot not to like. Technically this film is near perfect. There's some terrific cinematography here and the use of tinting comes to wonderful effect. There's two scenes of fantasy, one taking place in a courtroom and the other being a nightmare sequence. Both segments are incredibly well done with a wonderful touch of surrealism that really jumps off the screen. de Feraudy is also perfect in his role and director Feyder keeps the film moving at a lightning pace. So, what's the problem? There isn't a single emotion to be found in the film. I didn't laugh, there wasn't any suspense and there was really any drama so I'm really not sure what the film was going for outside the visual quality.
Due to the well-known extravagances so characteristic of the
aristocracy, this German Count has sometimes declared his liking for
frenchified silent films and among those his affection for Jacques
Feyder's oeuvre. Some time ago this German Count had the chance to
watch an abridged version of one of the French director's earlier
films, "Crainquebille", a film that was very acceptable to strict
German tastes; so when some rumors reached the Schloss that the
German-French ( an impossible alliance, certainly ) TV channel "ARTE"
would show a beautifully restored and tinted version of that film, it
was a great opportunity to check if the film in its entirety promised
as much as the abridged version.
And that's true, certainly; "Crainquebille" is a beautiful and poetic film that tells the story of a street seller who sells vegetables from his oxcart in the Paris market; due to an incident with a policemen he spends some days in prison, and when he finally comes out of jail everything has changed for him. "Crainquebille" is an astonishing and remarkable film for many reasons: for the technical aspects, because the mastery of Jacques Feyder is in every shot and conception of the film; special and visual effects ( Dr. Mathieu's nightmare, the sequence of Crainquebille in the court ); also excellent cinematography ( the marketplace sequences and specially the night shots ) by Herr Léonce-Henri Burel & Herr Maurice Foster that enriches the film and the story in an excellent way. Besides the technical aspects, "Crainquebille" is remarkable for Feyder's poetry, full of sensibility and not fussiness, which is difficult to do because many directors might have made a very different and worse film from such a story ( there is even an orphaned paper boy with a dog ). When it depicts the different ordinary people that can be seen, sellers, shop assistants, policemen, prostitutes, judges or doctors, a kind of human symphony emerges, as real as life itself; the film also inserts criticisms about social injustices, social degradation and even injustice in the application of justice.
"Crainquebille" is a piece of real life, a kind of documentary of the people who lived in Paris ( or in any great city of the world ) during the 20's, their harsh lives depicted with some sense of humor and hope, a beautiful film that bets always for the honesty and the honest people, a marvelous masterpiece, indeed.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must take a walk on the wild side for an aristocrat, that is to say, in the street market.
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