A news-reel like movie about early part of the Frensh Revolution, shown from the eyes of individual people, citizens of Marseille, counts in German exile and, of course the king Louis XVI, ... See full summary »
A news-reel like movie about early part of the Frensh Revolution, shown from the eyes of individual people, citizens of Marseille, counts in German exile and, of course the king Louis XVI, showing their own small problems. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
Jean Renoir's 1938 La Marseillaise is a people's epic, and not just because it was initially backed by public subscription before budget overruns necessitated a more conventional form of funding. Even its credits proudly boast its association with France's short-lived Popular Front, while the picture is as much a celebration of the everyman's role in the great events of history as it is rabble-rousing propaganda for the impending war with Germany. Unfortunately it gets off to a surprisingly bad start. Indeed, the first twenty minutes are so poor you wonder if the film can ever recover. A stilted historical pageant in the very worst sense, with awkward editing, speech-making, initially clumsy characterisation and a crude jumps forward in time, it's unpromising stuff.
It's only with the taking of the fort that Renoir really finds his feet as one character notes that sunsets are only glorious in novels anyone who has to get up that early for work knows that they're usually cold, damp and grey. And with that comes Renoir's real manifesto for the film: he's less interested in the confused politics of France's messy revolution than he is in the people caught up in it, and from this point on it becomes a celebration of the ordinary people whose names have been forgotten in the great events. Aside from the King (a fine turn from Pierre Renoir, the director's brother) and his court, we never see any of the great names of the Revolution. Renoir's constantly roving camera is just as likely to settle on a pair of children playing in the street than the thousands of extras around them waiting for battle to be joined, while the political satire of a shadow play is far less important to him than a soldier taking his girl out for a night at the pictures. Even the royalists are allowed some intelligence and a genuine love of France, even if they are fatally undermined by the ease with which they are sidetracked from politics to trivia: after all, everybody has their reasons.
It's not a great film, but it is a surprisingly entertaining one once it gets going and the camera-work is often stunning, with Renoir demonstrating such a mastery of the epic form that it's a pity he never returned to the genre.
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