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In winter of 1938, Paris is crowded with refugees from the Nazis, who live in the black shadows of night, trying to evade deportation. One such is Dr. Ravic, who practices medicine illegally and stalks his old Nazi enemy Haake with murder in mind. One rainy night, Ravic meets Joan Madou, a kept woman cast adrift by her lover's sudden death. Against Ravic's better judgement, they become involved in a doomed affair; matters come to a crisis on the day war is declared. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Wow, what a difficult movie to assess, but not a difficult one to enjoy. On the one hand, it is dripping with mood and anxiety. It is about budding love and broken hearts. There is political intrigue and and incipient Nazi invasion. And it's France, Paris, center of the end of the great century of European art and culture, from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s.
On the other hand, it seems amorphous and vague.
Director Lewis Milestone makes this 1938 Paris gloomier than Sherlock Holmes's London--the rain, the darkness, the general lack of hope is part of the great drama lurking behind every scene. Charles Boyer is the main character, a refugee of uncertain origin, and the mysterious woman with both rich and poor friends and an equally uncertain origin is played in usual melodrama by Ingrid Bergman. They have no chemistry, for sure, but that just makes their love affair mysterious as well. In fact, the whole movie is about what we don't know, and can't know by watching.
This could be frustrating for some viewers, this lack of intention, and frankly lack of clear plot. But if you can just inhabit this world, enjoying a highly polished mise-en-scene (so polished it shows its Hollywood sound stage roots, at times, though darkly, darkly), if you can just soak it up and not worry, all will be well. It's a beautiful beautiful movie on those terms, photographer Russell Meety is doing that 1940s high contrast photography to perfection. Watch how often he shoots through windows, including the great phone booth shot (repeated ten minutes later) where the accident happens in the background.
The story here is based on a 1945 novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque, and Milestone directed the legendary "All Quiet on the Western Front" two decades earlier, also based on a Remarque novel. In both cases, there is an intensity of humanity against the larger military chaos and cruelty that seems so indifferent to them. The book here was actually published in English first as "The Arch of Triumph," and was a huge bestseller before going to a German version.
I don't think it's an accident that the pre-war angst here is an echo of "Casablanca," which by now (five years later) was already legendary. Bergman, of course, is carried over (though she had just finished filming "Notorious" for Hitchcock, if you want to follow her career). And Boyer is a better version of Henried (better as an actor). For more colorful secondary characters, you'll find the incomparable Louis Calhern (with a surprisingly effective accent) and Charles Laughton (whose accent is wobbly).
This was originally a more gut wrenching four hour film, and I think it might have made more logical sense at that length, but I can see it would have been too long by far. Watch what we have and just take it in for what it is. I enjoyed it on that level very very much.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful.
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