|Index||4 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just how long is this film? Melissa E. Biggs lists the film's length as
198 minutes in her book, French Films, 1945-1993 (McFarland, 1996).
Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide lists the European running time as
170 minutes but the American video running time as 145 minutes. The
notes I'm making are based on this truncated video version. The 1958
New York Times review of the film gives the running time as 137
The first 45-50 minutes of the print I saw seem intact. This covers Julien Sorel's arrival at the Rénal home in Verrières, where he is to tutor the mayor's two children, and Sorel's seduction of the mayor's wife, Louise. When gossip about their affair becomes widespread and M. de Renal suspicious, Louise and Julien are able to avert his suspicions. But Julien leaves the Rénal home and returns to a seminary to further his studies for the priesthood.
When Julien goes back to the seminary at Besançon, I suspected there were some cuts, for Julien is not long at the seminary before he's off with Pirard, a Jansenist, for Paris.
In Paris, Pirard arranges a job for Julien as private secretary to a wealthy and influential nobleman, the Marquis de la Mole. Julien lives in the de la Mole household, and under the tutelage of the Marquis and his son, learns to dress and act as a gentleman
But Julien is interested in the Marquis's daughter, Mathilde, an attractive but silly girl, living in a world of romantic fantasies; however, her beauty, social snobbery, and disdain for Julien ignite him. In a short time, Julien becomes Mathilde's lover.
It was apparent to me that beginning with the Paris section, the film has been heavily cut, and as it went on, the narrative line became virtually incomprehensible unless one was familiar with the plot of the novel.
Julien and Mathilde's relationship soon comes to the Marquis's attention, and he doesn't approve because he considers Julien his daughter's social inferior. He has other plans for Mathilde, but she stubbornly insists that she wants to marry Julien.
Before the marriage occurs, the Marquis makes inquiries about Julien in Verrières. This leads to his receiving a damaging letter from Louise, which Louise's confessor had dictated to her.
After reading Louise's letter, the Marquis blocks the marriage, and Julien immediately goes to Verrières to avenge himself on Louise, which he does by shooting her in church while Louise is kneeling at the altar rail in prayer. He doesn't kill her; he merely wounds her. Paradoxically, Louise seems gratified to be shot; it's a moment of ecstasy for her because she interprets Julien's attempt on her life as proof that he still loves her.
Julien is apprehended, accused of attempted murder, tried, found guilty and sentenced to the guillotine. Louise is determined to go to him although her husband says that if she does, she will never see her children again. She goes, and we have a hokey romantic ending
In Julien's prison cell, Louise and Julien declare their eternal love to each other in purple passages fit only for a trashy romance novel. Louise must say such nonsense as, "I feel for you what I should feel for God." This dialogue is backed by a choir singing to suggest a religious experience. Even a Douglas Sirk melodrama wouldn't go this far.
This truncated version has nothing of Julien's getting Mathilde pregnant before marriage nor the grisly business of Mathilde obtaining Julien's head after he's guillotined and burying it to satisfy her romantic fantasies--all part of the novel's plot.
Julien Sorel is an early version of Joe Lampton of "Room at the Top." He's a carpenter's son, very interested to rise in society, but extremely sensitive to what he perceives as social slights directed at him. I was never able to feel anything for Julien because Gèrard Philipe does not act his role well enough to draw me in. Although Gèrard Philipe is dashing as Julian, looking especially fine in thigh-high leather boots that he struts around in, Philipe is never able to convey convincingly Julien's selfishness, cynicism, and world-weariness. Darrieux looks beautiful, but there are no sparks, no chemistry, between her and Philipe. We could be dealing with two paper dolls rather than human beings here.
Antonella Lualdi who plays Mathilde doesn't bring that character into more than two-dimensions, but that may be a result of the writing. Jean Mercure does a decent job as the Marquis de la Mole. The rest of the actors are playing little more than bits in this heavily populated story.
Miss this film in its presently available video version. Unfortunately, the 1993 (English) and 1998 (French) miniseries versions are currently not available in the U.S.
Claude Autant-Lara had intended a three and a half hours movie,but the producers were not prepared to accept it;two shows a day was not profitable for an expensive movie filmed in color ,which was rare in France of the fifties;the precedent user was probably right when he wrote about the producers'cuts .SO the movie was divided into two parts ; the audience had to come twice (and to pay twice of course!) Autant-Lara was an auteur:his then anti-clericalism ,anti-militarism and he held in contempt the bourgeoisie (no Chabrol did not invent it,nor the N.V),hypocrisy and so called sacred values ."Douce" and "LE Diable Au Corps,among others,had already been released .The story like,romantic ,human side of the novel is almost absent .Madame De Rénal (who could remind the viewers of the female role of "Le Diable Au Corps" and mainly Mathilde De La Môle are relegated to supporting parts:and however they are played by Danielle Darrieux and Italian beauty Antonella Lualdi (co-production outcome)!The director and his screenwriters,Bost and Aurenche focused on the social side :Julien,a carpenter's son,dreams of social promotion ,but he does not belong there ,in the world of privileged persons ,protected by the Red (the army) and the Black (religion) .He puts his head in the guillotine because he is an intruder under the very reactionary reign of Charles the Tenth,like the young student of "Diable" or the proletarian couple of "Douce"....and later the conscientious objector in "Tu Ne Tueras Point".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It was amusing to find out from a fellow-reviewer that Stendhal wrote
"purple prose" "fit only for a trashy romance novel". Yes, the scene in
Julien's prison cell, including "such nonsense as 'I feel for you what
I should feel for God'", is taken almost word-for-word from the book
(see Part 2, Chapter 43).
In fact, the script is the best part of the film. The way it manages to follow the spirit of the original though often modifying its letter (though, once more, the letter is, ironically, not modified in that "purple prose" scene) would merit a separate analysis. Not that fidelity to the original is a virtue in itself, but in the case of a writer as riveting as Stendhal it certainly does not hurt. I have been rereading the book and watching the 180 minute version (VHS, Collection Les Années Cinquante) of the film by turns, and the transition has been, at every time, seamless, as if moving within the same world. With the scenes added in the script I have the feeling of getting more of Stendhal. The strategy of compensation, common for good (inter-semiotic) translations, has been used to excellent effect. There is, for instance, the delightfully absurd dialogue between Mathilde and her mother that adds to the film Stendhal's subtly pervasive comic side, or the painful-to-watch scene where the priest dictates the letter to Mme de Renal so effective that not much more is needed to convey Stendhal's intense anti-clericalism. Perhaps the strategy of compensation is facilitated by the complex, multi-layered nature of the original which suffers superficial changes gladly.
I do not think the emphasis on the "social side" is at the expense of the "romantic, human" one with Julien's combative attitude to love, the love stories in the novel are not exactly that, up until the very end (the "purple prose" one, well, one cannot please everyone ...). Mathilde's part has been cut the most, but then again, her "love by reason" (Stendhal's "l'amour de tete" as opposed to "l'amour vraie" genuine love) is perhaps the least worth dwelling on if time is short. In prison, where Julien's mind is finally wholly occupied with genuine love for Mme de Renal, Mathilde's daily presence is nothing but an irritant, so if it is left out of the film, the loss is minimal.
That said, Mathilde is played excellently (by Antonella Lualdi), as are all three of the main characters, and, what is remarkable, practically all of the supporting ones. One can, of course, reproach the film with not being cinematographic enough, lacking visual dynamics, being too rigid. Nowadays, it almost seems de bon ton to do so. Yet why not just change the framework of thinking and regard it as a cross between theatre and film, where the emphasis is on the actors? In tune with the intensely psychological (not to say slightly over-cerebral) nature of the novel itself.
The reproach of "rigidity" leads me to a major weakness of the film. Personally, I was lucky to see my version first with colours digitally removed. To have filmed it in colour, and the primitive version of Eastmancolor at that, was a huge mistake. The quality is so poor that the film actually looks colourised. Most of the impressions of the film's rigidity and artificiality are due to those miserable colours, which, worst of all, manage to muffle facial expressions, diminishing the perceived acting quality an almost fatal loss for a work predominantly psychological. Also, the authors of the film clearly did not think in terms of colours. The only use Stendhal himself makes of colours is the juxtaposition of red and black, present in at least five key parts of the novel - parts missing in the film. Julien is often described as pale in the novel. His pallor, missing in the colour version, is part of his nature and image. In general, once Eastmancolor is gone, so are rigidity and artificiality, while all the nuances of excellent acting emerge.
Another weakness is the age difference between Julien and Gérard Philipe, which the actor himself cited as the reason for his initial refusal. I do not, obviously, mean that GP was old at the time of filming. It is just that he was not so very hopelessly vulnerably young as Julien at the beginning of the three years covered by the novel. This is not about fidelity to the source but about the inner logic of the film: for the young Julien who entered the Renal family it would have been outright impossible to have acquired the kind of wisdom borne from experience that is imprinted on the face and bearing of the 33- year-old actor. A very attractive kind of wisdom, yet something that the actor, quite justifiably, does his very best to erase, through uphill work. He succeeds, almost miraculously, in most of the scenes where the focus is on Julien, only to be betrayed in scenes "in- between", "non-scenes", as it were, where he, for instance, just goes and sits down at a table. In those treacherous moments he is not the fascinating Julien whose basic state seems to have been perpetual surprise ("étonné"=suprised is arguably the most frequent adjective used in conjunction with Julien in the novel).
However, Julien is a "fast learner", so in the second part of the film Philipe gets increasingly more believable. By the time he has tamed that "monster of pride" that is Mathilde, he is fully Julien. What is more, he is Stendhal's complex, ambiguous, mesmerising Julien, ambitious yet not quite a social climber, calculating yet impulsive and, indeed, romantic, feeling inferior and superior by turns, with mercurial changes of mood subtly and precisely conveyed by the actor. By far the best Julien of the three I have seen.
In sum, an excellent film for Stendhal-lovers, to be viewed, if at all possible, in black and white.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This adaptation of Stendhal's Le Rouge et Le Noir is a strong effort,
hampered by conservative, static cinematography, dialogue-heavy script
and staid, wooden acting. For those reasons, it is perhaps best
compared to the notorious literary adaptations produced by the BBC.
This film has some advantages that lift it above the BBC's efforts at costume dramas, however: most notably, it has a lighter feel than the ponderous British efforts and a brighter colour palate. Unfortunately, although these colours make the film more pleasant to watch than a sombre-hued BBC effort, they aren't used to particularly great artistic effect. Although colour films were only just starting to become common- place in 1954, Autant-Lara shows little imagination in their use and they do little to develop the film's themes.
In terms of the acting, Darrieux is off-form here and Philipe never really convinces us he is such an iconic figure of world literature as Julien Sorel. He does not display the ambition or the vanity the character exudes in the novel in which he as a child of the Napoleonic era.
Fortunately, however, the film does contain an impassioned yet subtle anti-military theme. Autant-Lara's work in this area would later become more fully-developed when he made his classic about conscientious objection, Tu Ne Tueras Point. This stance alone, particular brave one to take at the height of de Gaulle's reign, elevates the film far above similar works.
Ultimately, the film is worth watching because of its anti-military stance. This fully redeems it from its technical limitations and lack of development. Be warned however, it falls into many of the same traps as BBC dramas yet manages to be of a slightly higher quality than the fare typically produced by the British corporation.
Finally, in response to the other reviewers' discussion on running times, I purchased the full version (spread across two DVDs in the set) whilst I was holidaying in France in 2010, so it is on the market.
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