Port of Shadows (1938) Poster

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hauntingly sad French masterpiece
ingemann200013 December 2004
I've just seen Port of Shadows for the first time in my life, and I must say I really liked it. I'm already a great admirer of old black & white pictures, and I enjoyed The Great Illusion as well. This one is rather different from Illusion, though from the same era and also with Jean Gabin as the quintessential Frenchman. It's hauntingly sad, quietly emotional, and even if it's a bit dated in some places (the pathetic hood played by Brasseur) it still manages to creep up on you and leaves you absorbed with the motifs of human loneliness and the not unreasonable, but ultimately impossible human dream of happiness. So it's not a laugh-riot, and you don't leave the cinema with a happy feeling, but you do feel good about having seen it. It's a masterpiece in French cinema history, Jean Gabin is ideal as the tough-as-butter soldier with a doomed soft spot for Michéle Morgan's beautiful waif, and in the end all you remember is the quiet mists of Le Havre harbor, and the sense of ill-fate and lost chances. Not to mention the beautiful eyes of a very young Morgan!
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Play Misty for Me
writers_reign14 August 2003
Was there ever a better example of Poetic Realism (no, but one just as good, Le Jour Se Leve, from the same stable)than this, crafted exquisitely by the onlie begetters of the genre, Jacques Prevert - Marcel Carne. All the ingredients are present and accounted for; low-key lighting, atmos - perm any two from drizzle, sleet, cobbles, out-of-season resorts - and two doomed lovers who come together for one Mayfly moment in the sun before it all ends in tears to the distant sound of hammers striking firing pins and the heady, pungent aroma of cordite. Did anyone, with the possible exception of Bogie, do bruised tough better than Jean Gabin and pre-Audrey Hepburn were there ever so expressive eyes as Michele Morgan brought to the party. The Prevert-Carne team were on top of their game in this one which still holds up sixty years on. Purists may quibble that 'brumes' translates as mist rather than shadows but without a shadow of a doubt this is classic fare.
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8/10
A barrel of laughs (not)
Gary17045918 September 2004
When I was young this is what I used to call a "bulger", the first time I saw it when 18 years old I was so impressed by the bulging murky atmosphere, and the over-riding sense of doom pervading the film I thought it couldn't be bettered. Then I read up on Warner Bros. techniques for their best "atmospheric" potboilers such as The Big Sleep and realised it was, as usual, all down to saving money. LQDB is nearly completely studio-bound, therefore the fogs, darkness and even excessive cigarette smoke all came in useful in disguising the limitations created. In this case however the limitations are deliberate as it is the crux of the story, the elemental mist at Le Havre and Man's mental mists playing havoc with lives.

Not surprisingly, plenty of erudite praise has been showered down on LQDB over the years. Essentially it remains only a entertainingly depressing adult yarn, with a straight-faced storyline coupled with some gloomy and gleaming but pleasing black and white photography. I think Renoir called it fascist in a patriotic outburst; for Carne to get past the disapproving censor Gabin couldn't even be called a deserter in the film (although his one night stand with Nelly was cheerfully depicted). Needless to say, this has probably led to some confusion over the years as to why Gabin is on the run (more like stroll) anyway! Anyway, Fascism and fascism are both dark and depressing for the majority of us so that would make LQDB a faithful representation!

This was the 2nd of Carne's classic 6 consecutive films, culminating in 1945 with Les Enfants Du Paradis. To my mind the quality of this series remains unsurpassed in world cinema - unless you can think of another director who made 6 timeless classics one after another? All subjective, of course!

Nevertheless, one of my favourite films, not to be watched too often but always an effective antidote to the real world. Next: Hotel Du Nord.
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8/10
Very important French "cinéma poétique" classic
erwan_ticheler20 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS!

QUAI DES BRUMES is one of those movies that will always exhale cinema history.Not only is it one of the most famous French movies before the second world war,but it has also got scenes and technique that changed film in general.

Although I must say that it didn't struck me as much as LA GRANDE ILLUSION it still is a great movie.The dialogue is very poetic and full of references,the story is one of heartbreaking quality with a remarkable climax and the acting is first class.Jean Gabin shows why he is probably the greatest French actor ever and Michele Morgan is striking as his love interest.Michel"Saddam Hussain after being captured in his lair"Simon plays her wicked father-tutor.Pierre Brasseur plays the gangsterly type who finally kills Jean in a desperate act of jealousy.Brasseur is the only actor out of place here although he is highly regarded in France.

Several one liners and scenes in QUAI DES BRUMES are undoubtedly important for the cinema as a whole.This film reminded me quite a lot to CASABLANCA.The scenes with Gabin and Morgan at their romantic peak("T'as de beaux yeux tu sais") are very similar to Bogart and Bergman("Here's looking at you,Kid").Curtiz took a good look at QUAI DES BRUMES,I think.

The gloomy surroundings and the constant foggy city of Le Havre is clearly the basis of the later Film Noir.The use of this technique in QUAI DES BRUMES is great.

Like I said,a very important film in cinema history but certainly not the greatest.It misses the greatness of a true classic. 8/10
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10/10
Like Being Punched Really Hard in the Gut
zetes9 February 2001
I took a class in French Poetic Realism and Italian Neorealism this past Fall in which I saw many of the best films I will ever see. The third film we watched in the class was Jean Vigo's L'Atalante, which is just about the most gorgeous experience in film viewing I have ever experienced. I left the building in a cloud of euphoria, and I have never stopped thinking about it. One week later, we watched Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows). It affected me greatly in the opposite direction of L'Atalante. It made me lonely and grief-stricken. That is in no way a criticism; for the most part, any film that transforms my emotions, whether for the better or the worse, is a great film.

Le Quai des brumes is about a man played by the great Jean Gabin (the star of La Grande Illusion) who has deserted the army (a fact that is never mentioned specifically, since the French censors refused to let the filmmakers portray such an immoral deed). Everyone who he finds around him is morally corrupt. He finally befriends a dog, the most loyal of all animals, and then Nelly, a young woman who is being torn apart by her gangster suitor, Lucien, and her foster-father Zabel (played by L'Atalante's own Michel Simon).

The whole film falls into unavoidable and quite grueling violence. It is so depressing that the French director Jean Renoir (of La Grande Illusion and Rules of the Game) accused it of being Fascist. Those who know the film know this quotation, and have pondered it for the longest time. It does make perfect sense however. Hope leaves quickly after it is seen, and it is hard to get rid of. It fascistically knocks you down. 10/10
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10/10
If we have lost the war.....
dbdumonteil5 June 2008
...blame it on the "Quai des Brumes" !Both the right wing and the leftist reviews were chilly ,calling the movie " morbid" .Military censorship quickly banned "Le Jour se Lève" which was,if it were possible,even more depressing -and in my opinion even better,though at such a stratospheric level of art,this is minor quibble.

"You do not blame a barometer which forecasts the storm" was Carné's famous answer.

"Quai des Brumes" belongs to the legend of the French cinema.In a poll made around 1980,it was 8th best French film of all time (the number one,another Carné's masterpiece " Les Enfants Du Paradis" was a safe ,predictable choice ).More than the detective plot (there are many deaths in this film) ,the atmosphere of this misty harbor,with its ships about to sail away for these islands in the sun you'll never know ,is all that counts.It was the triumph of the Réalisme Poétique ,a label Carné himself did not like : these stories were poetic but they were not that much realistic,for they were filmed in studios ;masterpieces of cinema de studio of these golden years ,when the French were the best in the world : the harbor is unforgettable,as are the Canal Saint-Martin in "Hotel Du Nord" ,the metro station in "les Portes de la Nuit" or Le Boulevard Du Crime" in "Les Enfants Du Paradis".

After an odd effort -which is today considered ahead of its time- " Drôle De Drame" , " Quai Des Brumes" is actually the follow-up to "Jenny" (1936).The gallery of sinister-looking persons was already present in Carné's first movie,and Françoise Rosay's last lines indicated that the relatively optimistic ending would mute .

"Quai Des BRumes" leaves no hope to the viewer .This harbor which should mean freedom,escape is actually a blind alley ;nobody can escape.When Gabin appears in his shabby uniform and the gorgeous Michele Morgan in her raincoat and wearing her famous beret ,we know that their fate is already sealed.All the b.... around cannot understand true love .This is Carné's favorite subject: Michel Simon and Michèle Morgan are the prototype of the director's odd couple :see also Jules Berry and Jacqueline Laurent in "Le Jour Se Lève" or Pierre Brasseur and Nathalie Nattier in "Les Portes De La Nuit".

Extraordinary scenes: Michel Simon,playing loud classical music which becomes "exotic" in such a rotten world.The same ,crying his heart out for love which he has never known "Nobody loves me!" ;Nelly and Jean on the harbor,exchanging Prevert's haunting lines " Every time the sun rises ,we hope something fresh will be born,but when it goes down,it the same old gloomy world" "The bottom of the sea is full of rubbish" ;the opening scenes ,with this truck running through a foggy country .

All the endings of Carné's movies of that era are mind-boggling:from the sun rising as the tragedy is complete ("Le Jour Se Lève") to the still beating hearts ("Les Visiteurs Du Soir"),from Baptiste lost in the crowd ("Les Enfants Du Paradis" ) to the stunning editing which concludes "Quai Des Brumes" : Jean,Nelly,the ship,the dog ,all this ,more than the other endings had a strong influence on more movies I can think of: Yves Allegret 's "Dédée D'Anvers ",Carol Reed's "Odd man out" -also influenced by Duvivier 's 'Pepe le Moko" are two prominent examples.

We may have lost the war...but we have gained another masterpiece by one of our greatest directors and one of our greatest writers.
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make sure the razor blades are locked up
blanche-222 September 2011
Jean Gabin and Michelle Morgan star in the stylish Marcel Carne film, "Port of Shadows," made in 1938. There is simply no one like Jean Gabin - Hollywood had no idea what to do with him - here he was, this amazing leading man who looked like a character actor. Thankfully, the French knew what they had and kept him busy for 48 years.

Gabin plays Jean, a military deserter who comes into the French port of Le Havre, intending to leave aboard ship for Venezuela. He meets the beautiful Nelly and is adopted by a small dog. Nelly is a real man magnet; she has a boyfriend Maurice, a father figure who is in love with her named Zabel, and Lucien, a hood in love with her. She and Jean fall in love, even though in her heart she knows that he has to leave Le Havre.

These French films out-noir American film noirs, and this is a stylish, dark film filled with sadness, with a depressing ambiance throughout. If you were miserable when you started watching it, you'll be a mess when it's over. What I've gone through for Gabin - he was in so many dark, depressing films! If you're a fan of film noir (and/or Gabin), this is for you.
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10/10
Jean and Michele
jotix10012 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This atmospheric film, directed by Marcel Carne, presents a case for the poetic realism, a style that was prevalent in the French cinema of that era. Carne and his collaborator, Jacques Prevert, adapted the Pierre Dumarchais novel for the screen giving it a powerful visual style that reflected the way most French film makers embraced for the stories they loved to give their audiences. Mr. Carne was blessed when he selected Eugene Schuffan as his cinematographer, who did wonders with the way he photographed the story. Maurice Jaubert's musical score also is effective in setting the mood.

The story centers around Jean, a deserter from the army who is hitchhiking north, hoping to get on a ship overseas out of Le Havre. He is almost killed by the truck driver who stops suddenly in order not to harm him. After that, he offers Jean a ride to the port, but Jean infuriates his rescuer when he overtakes the control of the truck to avoid killing a dog. This action nets him with a true and loyal friend, who obviously is grateful and adores his master.

Jean is saved from the police by the drunk Vittel as he is walking on a street near the night club. Inside, Luicen, a local effeminate criminal, Lucien, is trying to scare old Zabel, a shop owner. Vittel asks Jean to go with him to Panama's place, outside the town, by the water. Panama, a kind man with a past, seizes Jean's situation and offers him badly needed food and shelter. It is while he is eating that Jean spots Nelly, a gorgeous young woman who appears either to be a prostitute, or someone awaiting for a rendezvous.

Lucien pays Panama a visit, but Panama repels the intrusion. Nelly and Jean leave together the following morning toward the town. It's clear both like each other. Nelly, who goes back to Zabel's shop, finds the older man repulsive, but it appears that not having any other means of support she must stay in the present situation. Jean doesn't have any idea of what's going on.

At the night club the following night, Lucien is rough with Nelly, but Jean slaps him back provoking tears in the tough guy. Jean, who has found a possibility to get aboard a ship leaving for Venezuela, is surprised when Panama gives him clothing used by a painter he had met the night before. He seems to be on his way out, but Lucien and his gang have another idea for Jean.

The film clearly solidified Jean Gabin's total domination of the French cinema, bypassing the popular Charles Boyer. Mr. Gabin is always a joy to watch in any of his movies. It's easy to see why he was one of France's most beloved figures of the cinema because he was always true to the character he was portraying and he convinces us he is no one but that person in that situation. Michele Morgan, who plays Nelly, one of the great beauties of all time, brings life to this young woman in the story. Her chemistry with Jean Gabin is easy to see. Michel Simon, another great actor from France, is seen as Zabel, a man that loves the young woman, knowing he doesn't stand a chance to get her. Pierre Brasseur is the fiendish Lucien. Eduard Delmont appears as Panama and Raymond Aimos is Vittel.

This film showed Mr. Carne at his best. The film is recommended for lovers of the classic French cinema.
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9/10
Engaging, provoking theatre
Polaris_DiB17 September 2007
Interesting what a contrast this movie makes to Carne's "The Children of Paradise". The two are almost complete opposites where mise-en-scene is concerned, and yet more interesting is that they both show a filmmaker with a craft of form and expression that rises beyond most other filmmakers, including his contemporaries.

"Port of Shadows" is about a French army deserter (Jean Gabin, wonderful as usual) who attempts to flee the nation in order to finally begin a life away from the bad luck that's always held him. He appears at a small port town, immediately falls in love, and sets off a chain of events that show an inherent fatalism with a sense of humor, tragedy, and substance.

This movie has one of those scripts that's very appealing in the way that it sends characters wandering through the mists, and yet somehow everything comes together and ties up all loose ends by the end. Adding to it the moody, brooding cinematography filled with fog and smoke, and one can't help but immerse oneself gladly into a different world. Also, Carne adds a sense of theatricality and the Carnivalesque that even Fellini couldn't compare to.

This is definitely a film that well deserves being called "a classic of French cinema." --PolarisDiB
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9/10
Doomed Romance In A Port Of Shadows....
Nin Chan30 September 2007
...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!
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