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Pierre (Pierre Richard-Willm), a young lawyer, has enormous debts due to his mistress Florence (Marie Bell), and her whims of luxury life. Pierre has gone too far and put the family firm in jeopardy. They ask him to expatriate. To avoid scandal, Pierre joins the Foreign Legion. In Morocco, near the desert, Pierre goes with his comrades of the Legion to a bar-restaurant-brothel, owned by a shady character, Mr. Clement (Charles Vanel). Clement lives more or less with Ms.Blanche (Françoise Rosay) who is a fortune teller with cards, as a hobby. But Clement is also after his girls now and then. Pierre is still obsessed with Florence but he meets Irma (Marie Bell), one of Clement's girls, who is the double of Florence except for hair color. Irma has had an accident and has lost part of her memory at a certain point of her recent past, and Pierre slowly persuades himself she is Florence, but cannot remember it. Advised by Ms.Blanche, Irma finally accepts to act as if she was Florence because... Written by
Very few movies for me have captured the tragedy and pageantry of life in one fell swoop, the other two are Les Enfants du Paradis and The Satin Slipper, supernatural titles which must be uttered only in awe. These are decidedly Promethean movies, which beg a thunderbolt from above for their creators. Such movies through their genius seem sacrilegious.
Exuberant, blithe and foolish, Belle Époque nitwit Pierre lives a pampered lifestyle with a sinecure at the family bank. Innocently in love with a man eater, he throws more and more "borrowed" money into the fire of her greed in the hopes of putting it out. Years of disgrace follow where Pierre must learn to be a man like other men, to silently put up with being un raté, to watch his life slide out of view, to take his pleasures where he can in exile with the Foreign Legion. The Book of Ecclesiastes suggests that the only solaces in life are those provided by hard work and immediate pleasures such as eating and drinking, if so then Pierre's exile is something of an unlooked-for gift, a release from perpetual childhood.
Le Grand Jeu is a film that makes one to wonder if God didn't conflate lust and love when He created the world. The filmmakers create their own world in miniature here, a world where people live with the ghouls of their pasts sat on their shoulders, loving without being loved back, cursed by lust unattainable, or attainable and consuming, damned one way or the other. It was a refreshingly raunchy movie with quite the most triple-x-rated cabaret song, from La môme Dauville (Lyn Clevers), recalling Minnie Cunningham (an English tease immortalised by the painter Walter Sickert). Whilst lust does seem to inhibit the possibility of true love, male lust in particular is treated as something natural and not to be ashamed of.
So the world is a casino and our fortunes dictated by Fortuna (the great game of the title). One's only weapon against all this seems to be morale. That seems the key message of what is I would say, a perfect movie (it's probably also pretty similar in that regards to Les Enfants Du Paradis, and no surprise to find out that Marcel Carné was an assistant on this movie). Marie Bell and Pierre Richard-Willm act their hearts out here.
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