Charlie Kohler is a piano player in a bar. The waitress Lena is in love with him. One of Charlie's brother, Chico, a crook, takes refuge in the bar because he is chased by two gangsters, ... See full summary »
Abel Davis is a criminal, hunted in Italy. The police are closing in, so he and his pal Raymond arrange to flee back to France with Abel's wife, Thérèse, and their two young sons. Abel and ... See full summary »
Life's a rotten business, says Jean, a deserter who arrives at night in Le Havre, looking to leave the country. He lucks into civilian clothes, a little bit of money, a passport, and a dog, and he also meets Nelly, a 17-year-old who's grown up too fast. She's the object of lust of men: including a boyfriend Maurice, her putative protector Zabel, and Lucien, a local hood. Jean falls for her, faces down Lucien, and gives her courage to stand on her own feet. A ship is leaving for Venezuela; can at least one of them be on it, or is that just a dream? Written by
...lascivious, resentful old storekeepers, effete "toughs", thieving winos, crestfallen, impecunious artists and other downtrodden types. Like Duvivier's incomparable "Pepe Le Moko", "Port Of Shadows" is shrouded in mist. The fog here, however, doesn't evoke a sensual surrealism, but envelopes everything with a graven pallor and dampness. Indeed, everything here screams asphyxiation- Gabin is INCREDIBLE as a well-intentioned Byronic figure embittered by the realities and absurdities of war, whose near-consummate weltschmerz is offered salvation...until inescapable tragedy strikes. As a tragic poet of the cinema, I believe Carne was nearly unrivalled in the Golden Age of French film.
The thick veils of smog give the amplify the film's preoccupation with solitude and opacity- dialogue here is often barbed, strained and bitter, the world-weary cynicism of the characters betraying their immense suffering. Principles are a luxury in an age of disenchantment- the proprietor of Panama's is impassive towards the suicide of his resident Werther (his existentialist exclamation "What's the use?" accenting the futility of suicide- far from offering a reprieve from superfluity, it merely confirms it) while loyalty amongst Leguardier's posse is dispelled briskly after his humiliation. Superfluity is the order of the day- "The world is better off with one less good-for-nothing"..."He needs an identity...I can give him mine.". Each character is acutely aware of his own gratuitousness, and each of them tries desperately to cobble together a raison d'etre in the face of nothingness. When these collapse, as in the case of Michel, Zabal and Leguardier, they are driven to murder or suicide.
As with Les Enfants Du Paradis, Carne's forte lies in sculpting exquisitely intricate characters- the sheer HUMANITY of this movie warrants multiple viewings. Michel Simon's grotesque, graceless Zabal is brilliantly rendered- scorned doubly for his money and his cosmetic deficiencies, Zabal's resignation to a cruel fate (soul-corroding loneliness and a burgeoning moral ugliness) culminates in a death as clumsy and maladroit as his demeanor. His reverence for beauty, as exhibited in his adoration of Nelly and religious hymns, is severely at odds with his environs.
Leguardier, petty hoodlum, imitates American gangster archetypes gleaned from film and hardboiled novels, but his seemingly cocksure swagger is a poor facade for his suffocating ennui and moral cowardliness. Nelly, forbearing and forlorn, is prey to reveries of love, fantasies that promise fulfilment until the film's heartrending conclusion. Looming ominously in the background of the movie are questions on the purpose of art in this grim epoch- the characters on display are all victims of quixotic myths: of war, patriotism, love, crime, masculinity. The incongruities between these fables and cruel reality, the hideous gulf between romance and fact, these are perhaps the saddest truths the film yields.
The ending, seen in this light, is bittersweet- Jean, the tragic character par excellence who has said Yes to all that is absurd and obscene in his life, relinquishes all illusions about the impermanence of all things, including love. Nelly and Jean have achieved true communion, true intercourse, if even for an ephemeral moment. His death is a noble one, an affirmation and acceptance of transience. This is the happiest conclusion that Carne can offer, and even in the film's unrelenting fatalism there is fortitude and life-affirming courage. Camus would've given the thumbs up! In the absurd quandary of life, there is room for sentiment and fraternity, as long as we accept its temporal nature. In Proustian fashion, memory renews all things, so let us embalm these precious moments!
7 of 8 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?