Henri Calef is nowadays completely forgotten in France,and his reputation rests on this one and only movie "les chouans",from a Honoré de Balzac novel.
More than Calef himself,the film owns a lot to his stars ,Balzac's fine blending of romantic passion and history ,and Claude Renoir's sensational cinematography.
First of all,there's Jean Marais;he had enjoyed the triumph of Cocteau /Delannoy 's "l'éternel retour" and,in this very year 1946,he was the hero of one of the greatest masterworks of all time "la Belle et la Bête",a Cocteau/Clément collaboration.He portrays here the marquis de Montauran,an aristocrat coming to the "the chouans" rescue on behalf of the count of Artois (who would become king of France as Louis XVIII after Napoleon's fall in 1815).Marais's aristocratic style and his stunning charisma made the film a winner.He will meet two beautiful women:the first is Madame de Gua,a royalist ,one of the chiefs of the chouans,these people who could not accept that their country had become a republic.She is played by a great actress,Madeleine Robinson,who gives a flawless performance:like Marais,she's able to convey subtle feelings from an intense hate to a delicate frailty.The second,Marie de Verneuil is a spy in the pay of the Republicans.Madeleine Lebeau is not exactly on a par with her two tremendous co-stars ,but she makes all her scenes count.
There are two worlds:the crepuscular one of the royalists the "Whites",where the vicar is the symbol of a romantic but fading past,a past where God and the divine law were the center of power,and the rising and self-conscious one of the children of the revolution, the "Blues".Psychologically ,the marquis de Montauran,once fiery and full of conviction,will become disenchanted ,not because the war he wages is already lost,but because he realized that Marie's dear and pathetic childhood memories mean more to him than a king back again on his throne.
SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS* SPOILERS It would be a crime to pass over in silence Claude Renoir's work.The last pictures of the movie are among the very best French cinema has produced in the post-war years. Madeleine Robinson,leads her doomed chouans to war in a misty forest:the screen turns sometimes almost white,with figures moving mysteriously in the small early hours. Jean Marais carries Marie's dead body in his arms in a prairie.He's shot,he falls.Renoir doesn't show the two people,he focuses on the marvelous Breton landscape which seems to whisper ,like Arthur Rimbaud:"nature, rock them gently,they are cold".
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