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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In retrospect it's fascinating to note that one of the elements that launched what is arguably the greatest writer-director team in French cinema would be responsible for its demise exactly one decade later. Within that decade - 1936/46 - Jacques Prevert and Marcel Carne' jointly wrote and directed Jenny, Drole de Drame, Quai des Brumes, Les Visiteurs du Soir, Les Enfants du Paradis and Les Portes de la nuit. The last title, released in 1946 included an element of fantasy in the shape of a 'pure' romance set in the 'real' world of black markets, racketeering, collaboration etc which audiences found unacceptable in that firs full post-war year. In Jenny their initial collaboration which has long eluded me and which I have at last been able to view thanks to the generosity of the altruistic IMDb contributor I have had occasion to thank previously, a similar element is present via another 'pure' love between the 'innocent' daughter of a night club/bordello manager and a gangster who, somewhat improbably, starts behaving like an adolescent - picnics in the country, lover's games etc. On paper the story is pure melodrama - Carne had been an Assistant to Jacques Feyder on four movies and when Feyder wanted a 'vehicle' for his wife, Francoise Rosay, Carne' was given his chance behind the camera - the eponymous Jenny (Rosay) manages a night club which is little more than a bordello with a liquor license on behalf of the owner Benoit (Charles Vanel); inevitably she has a daughter (Lisette Lanvin) whom she packed off to London lest she discover Mommy's real job but who returns to Paris as the film starts. Around this time Jenny gets romantically involved with Albert Prejean a mobster to the chagrin of Benoit who tells his henchman Dromadaire (Jean Louis Barrault) to have a 'talk' to Prejean. Equally inevitably the daughter 1) discovers Jenny's secret and 2) falls for Prejean herself making for conflict all round. Like I said we're talking meller here BUT we're also talking Jacques Prevert who was incapable of writing anything but shining, pithy, poetic prose and his screenplay plus Carne's sure-footedness with a large cast lift this out of the rut and turn it into a Major League entry. And oh for those far-off days when PC was unheard of and Prevert could call the hunchbacked Barrault Dromedaire (dromedary) with no one thinking anything of it (note: in the IMDb credits they've changed Barrault's name to Camel, presumably reasoning that IMDb readers wouldn't know what a dromedary was).
"Jenny" inaugurates the famous series of movies which made Marcel Carné
one of the most brilliant directors of the era.From 1936 to 1946,with
scenarist Jacques Prévert (and once with Henri Jeanson)he created what
the critics called the "réalisme poétique".One should note that Carné
himself used to hate this label.But who cares when you deal with such
works as "quai des brumes" "le jour se lève " and "les enfants du
paradis" ,to name but three?
Jenny (Françoise Rosay) is a madam,and when her daughter comes back from England,she does not want her to find out what her job is really like.The plot is rather melodramatic and a bit cheesy,but the cast,including Jean-Louis Barrault,Charles Vanel and Robert Le Vigan is first-rate .A dirty world ,which is compared to the silt at the bottom of muddy waters.And as Jenny's final line says :"when you're at the bottom,you've got to stay at the bottom".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Jenny" is well above an average movie in its capacity to create a
slice of the world and fill it with characters of interest, who are
also well-played by the cast. The world of Jenny (Francoise Rosay) is
that of a middle-aged mother who is running a thinly-disguised
high-class bordello. She has a younger man (Albert Prejean), a man on
the shady side of the law, as a boy friend, but he's a likable chap,
especially in comparison with the characters played by Charles Vanel
and his associate Jean-Louis Barrault. Vanel owns the establishment and
is pressuring Jenny. Barrault plays a bitter hunchback nicknamed
"Dromedaire". Jenny's daughter (Lisette Lanvin) returns from London and
Mom tries to hide what she's doing for a living. Without knowing it,
Prejean and Lanvin come together as lovers.
"Jenny" is below average in its story, in my view. I found myself wondering at times what it was about, or looking for some plot twists, or some action or some tension. Eventually, the story picks up, but it's slow getting there. We have to be content with that slice of life and being immersed in it, and on that score the movie has a certain allure. It's nowhere near the allure of "Pepe Le Moko" or "Algiers", or the subsequent films to be made by Marcel Carne like Port of Shadows that he did two years later. I did not feel that there was much chemistry between Prejean and Lanvin.
This was Carne's first film. He hadn't yet gotten his act together, or gotten a first-class script, or been able to infuse the drama with a greater overall feeling. The movie brings out a degree of empathy and curiosity in the viewer but does seem to lack warmth and emotion. Better critics than I can probably locate in it the beginning steps of Carne that would mature in subsequent more successful films.
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