More skies of gray than any Russian play can guarantee..
This little-shown French film (I saw it last night on Ontario's French TFO network) is the second of two French films based on Dostoyevsky novels that were produced in France in 1946 with roughly the same personnel and writing by Charles Spaak, the other being "L'Idiot".
It is unremittingly dark. As such, the Russian cult for frankness (to the point of squalor) was in tune with the prevailing "existentialist" atmosphere of post-WW II France. The story shows the devastating effect on a widower of learning of his wife's infidelities on her death-bed. The film follows the troubled relationship and natural antagonism between the widower Nicolas (Raimu in his last and most troubling performance) as the "eternal husband", and the probable biological father of his young daughter, Michel (Aimé Clariond), as the "eternal seducer".
This simple tale allows the characters to navigate the troubled waters of resentment in every one of its unhealthy phases and concludes the only way it can, which is rather unsatisfactorily, but not before a couple of heart-stopping revelations. It also allows the actors to wallow into psychological skulduggery and the analysis of spiritual mediocrity in a way that usual French stage conventions would not normally allow.
In short, it is an unremitting portrait of a facet of life one does not normally dwell upon and whose depressing character is only alleviated by the general excellence of the actors and the realistic depiction of bourgeois Russian society.
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