Pépé le Moko is a gangster from Paris that hides in Algier's Casbah. In the Casbah, he is safe and is able to elude the police's attempts to capture him. But he misses his freedom, after ... See full summary »
During the first World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
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Pépé le Moko is a gangster from Paris that hides in Algier's Casbah. In the Casbah, he is safe and is able to elude the police's attempts to capture him. But he misses his freedom, after two years in the Casbah. He meets a gorgeous Parisian tourist, Gaby, and they fall in love. Native inspector Slimane tries to use her to attract Pépé out of the Casbah in order to catch him. Written by
When Walter Wanger produced Algiers (1938), the American remake, he tired to have all copies of "Pépé le Moko" destroyed. Fortunately, he was not able to do so. See more »
In a scene after Pierrot's death, Pepe is getting progressively drunker and his suit coat opens to reveal more of his shirt. His shirt has the monogram of "JG" on the pocket; clearly the monogram of the actor (Jean Gabin) and not the character. See more »
It's not so surprising that this film originally bore the working title of "Les Nuits Blanches", as it certainly shares more than a passing resemblance to Dostoevsky's timeless tale and Visconti's mesmeric adaptation. "Pepe Le Moko" is, more than anything else, a love story, though it functions more as a commentary on the dynamics and nature of love than an exultation in its virtues. Like Dostoevsky's hapless dreamers, Duvivier's characters are in love with phantoms, incorporeal fantasies that they project onto canvas of flesh. Naturally, idealism and reality are hopelessly estranged, and efforts of reconciliation can only precipitate frustration and tragedy.
Pepe le Moko is a tormented fugitive and exile, liege lord of a vice-ridden, sweltering microcosm and crown fool. Like the swaggering, stolid gangsters of Jean-Pierre Melville, Pepe is a victim of himself, prisoner of arbitrary codes of masculinity and honor. His hauteur are undermined by the minuteness of his empire, itself infested with conspirators eager to sell him to the police. His "freedom" itself is pathetic enough to be risible, venturing outside the insular sanctuary and he is fair game for the police. Clinging doggedly to whatever semblance of liberty he has left, Pepe acts out a tragic comedy within the confines of his circumscribed universe, his roles of Don Juan and Capone underscored by pathos and ennui.
When a flighty Parisienne catches a glimpse of the fabled kingpin, she becomes instantly infatuated with his imperious manner, seeing him and the bloodthirsty world he represents as salvation from her stuffy bourgeois existence. In Aeschylean fashion, neither Pepe nor said femme fatale love one another, they merely love effigies, ideals. The female is Pepe's solitary conduit to his beloved Paris and the only confidante for his crippling homesickness. His indifference to her extravagant jewelry reveals the absolute arbitrariness of his criminal pursuits, a mere pretext for action in such boring climes. Yet, the viewer is acutely aware that the Paris Pepe longs for no longer exists, if it is represented by the addle-brained, vacuous Sybarites that his lover surrounds herself with. The mere fact that a Parisienne would exalt him as her liberator should itself alert him to the folly of his reveries. Sustained by his illusions, Pepe withdraws further from reality. Everything about Jean Gabin's character makes me want to cry- his fragile stoicism, his crestfallenness, his obsessive delusion, his self-destructiveness.
There are some who would take issue with the implicit ethnocentrism in the "Casbah" imagery. Note that this was an adaptation of a novel written in the midst of fervent pro-colonial sentiment, and that, in Duvivier's hands, the Casbah becomes mythic, poetic, allegorical. The impenetrable veils of smoke are almost Cocteau-esquire, giving the film the sensuous richness of Scheheradze's chambers. At the same time, the mists accent Pepe's self-deception- his entire persona is fictive, as are his illusions of freedom and escape. The sequence of Pepe's fevered sprint toward the harbor may be maligned nowadays for its visual sloppiness, but I think it's absolutely marvelous, masterfully capturing Pepe's childlike impetuousness. As Pepe courses onward, the surrounding Casbah gradually blurs around him, the juxtaposition of back/foreground indicating his flight from one fantasy into another, as well as highlighting the sheer depth of his delusory monomania and tunnel-visioned myopia. As psychology transformed into image, this one works.
Beyond everything, Pepe Le Moko is a deeply cynical film, its slightly jaundiced perspective on human nature reminding one of Clouzot, Hitchcock and Joseph Conrad. The entire film is a tight lattice of interwoven self-interests- look at the Parisienne's corpulent, autocratic husband, the obsence, oleaginous Regis and the servile, serpentine Slimane for some fine examples of the vile characters on display. Even the character who loves deeply and truly, the forbearing Ines, would rather betray Pepe than be estranged from him...a commentary on the covetous, self-serving nature of love, perhaps?
I haven't seen any other Duvivier films, but he doesn't seem to be the humanist that Becker and Renoir are, and I can appreciate him all the more for that. Like Becker, he seems to have been largely misunderstood and under-appreciated in his time, at least on these shores, and the interview appended on the Criterion disk suggest that he was a retiring and modest sort, never garrulous about his art (and hesitant to even think of it as art, which it assuredly is). What a film this is....a terrific achievement. I love the golden age of French cinema, and this affirms and reinforces that affection.
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