During the First World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German POW camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
In his final film, F.W. Murnau presents the tale of two young lovers on the idyllic island of Bora Bora in the South Pacific. Their life is shattered when the old warrior declares the girl ... See full summary »
The opening shot is a shortened sweeping pan of an Algerian landscape begging questions of producer intrigues in the cutting-room. A montage of traditional Algerian activities juxtaposed with shots of ancient ruins. The montage continues with shots of the machines of industry and agriculture. A shot of a steam engine provides a self-reflexive nod to the audience embarking on this travelogue introduction. The opening is pseudo-documentary, quasi-ethnographic. No snide portrayals of "primitive" culture (expected from Renoir). That being said, the juxtaposition of shots tend to evoke sentiment and curiosity (imagination, if you will and atypical of Renoir's ethos on interior-exterior truths). I would characterize Le Bled (from my own research) as transitional within the evolution of his lesser known stylistic system. Low angle shots provoke psychological associations for audience identification while one-shot closeups obliquely framed further psychological effects while adding a painterly quality. Renoir also provides some development within his famous stylistic system. For example, great depth of field at the docks juxtapose staged actors in the foreground with non-actors milling about in the background - the effect is dramatic, especially within Renoir's oeuvre. Unobtrusive camera-work has novel use through positioning with obstructions in the mise-en-scene... naturally arranged to habitually eclipse views of other background objects with seemingly greater human utility (cars and houses). Renoir poses a pointed question about the inherent value and utility of nature to forming humanity's own will. Prophecy in the scenario as old army buddies reacquaint after a random run-in (Renoir would have a similar encounter during the filming of Toni, later inspiring the scenario for Grand Illusion). Good staging/blocking of actors keeps the narrative pace fluid and progresses plot without having to resort to intertitles. However, this directorial choice has Renoir again furthering a psychological identification through promoting a sense of 'photogenie' - rendering the text impressionist in more ways than one. The film, accused of predictability and banality, seemingly has subtly complex characters. A young man lovestruck then quickly affirms not needing to rush into marriage and proceeds to focus on his own inner development through toil. Some propaganda though as the film was commissioned as a centenary celebration of colonization in Algeria. A rich uncle left a significant inheritance for his niece - a fortune gained from 'nobly' tilling the land and utilizing the strong Algerian agricultural foundation to build a stable infrastructure. Despite controversial politics, it is the direction that is most interesting in this film. Renoir, is always ahead of his time (mainly due to making repetition of production practices anathema)... La Fille's collision montage sequence (admittedly influenced by Abel Gance), Carrefour's establishing the qualities of film noir prior to its application in Hollywood, Toni as exemplary of neo-realism prior to its canon in Italy, the great depth of field in films like Regle preceding Welles's Kane and Renoir had already shifted to a critically self-reflexive 'counter cinema' approach to the Tradition of Quality before Godard and Truffaut had established it themselves in features. Le Bled perhaps presents nothing new per se but Renoir's combination of technique and atmosphere is novel and elusive. Renoir's empowering the female voice is brought forth in Bled as the niece states to her hapless courter "You have no get-up-and-go. If only I were a man". This sentiment fits Renoir's oeuvre, where representing women under an ethos of egalitarianism is paramount. The mobile framing present is at the service of tracking character movement and not constructing space. It is hard to accept Renoir's denial of being influenced by the medium's ability to represent psychology in light of a provocative sequence where a mysterious battalion of the French Army arrives on the shores. However, the 'spirit' of France is not brought into question in the Gancian sense and the 'J'accuse' moment is appropriated/bastardized as a 'J'accepte' moment (this bastardizing of Zola-Gance for propagandistic ends surely irked Renoir in this commissioned film). The sequence's superimposed soldiers marching (dissolve) into tractor riding farmers in a cavalcade sweeping across the cliffs into the horizon is haunting. Reverie of France's ability to grow and progress will be tiresome for some spectators (it reminds of Stalinist SR Stakhanovite-themed films) but nevertheless the direction and visuals are immaculate (despite the historicist semantics at play). The farmer-soldiers vanish into "thin" air through superimposed dissolves. The intertitle "J'accepte" teaches nephew that Algeria is worth the effort to cultivate - it is French land! I am sure Renoir was relieved when sound came in (with his next film). The sentimental portrayals in this commission are a far cry from more subtle psychology employed for characterization once Renoir had greater control of his projects. 'Easter-egg-hunt' reveals the Pan flautist (motif) sitting merrily watching and being watched. Le Bled is three acts with the second dragging and not fusing the story into a unity. The story would have more strength if it focused wholeheartedly on Claudie (the inheritor). Her choice of suitor (one accused of "pussying out" all the time and the other acquiring a 'feeling' for the rich history of the land) is of most interest (recalls Fabri's Korhinta for this reviewer). Claudie's feisty verve infuses scenes with energy and interest. Some accused Le Bled (reductively) of being nothing more than a propaganda piece - I disagree. Bled raises some serious moral and socio-political questions ( the gazelle hunt scene frames these questions nicely). A long take centralizes a murdered baby gazelle in the frame while fallen French girl is at the edge of the frame. This scene reminds of the concepts of brutality that Aime Cesaire raised in his polemical-poetic charges against (post-)colonization of the Third World. The film ends with an exciting action sequence and seemingly tragic end. The end chase drags somewhat following the climax but when the falcons are let loose, an element of panoramic continuity is unleashed that reengages the spectator. This film has a heartfelt ending, in this reviewer's opinion. Some of the performances are a little too theatrical, but not overwhelmingly so. Highly Recommended for Renoirites.
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