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Erich von Stroheim,
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The first thing to bear in mind is that it's actually the second part of another movie "les disparus de Saint-Agil"( Christian-Jaque ,1938).Both scripts are by Pierre Véry,whose works are brimming with nostalgia.Although the characters are different in the two movies,the atmosphere is similar:"les disparus" focuses on the present (the heroes are adolescents)and "les anciens" tries to link the present with the past.
The first part of the movie is excellent:the depiction of the village,the old boarding-school,near decay,the venerable headmaster(wonderfully played by Pierre Larquey,who will be one of the teachers in Clouzot's "les diaboliques"(1955)),the human priest(a moving Serge Reggiani);the students ,living for the Summer holidays,singing a little tune,and the former ones ,now grown-ups,coming to their old master's (financial) rescue,humming the same old melody ;all the timeless rituals such as the buried bottle;the men,back in this school where they used to set up secret societies-which we already met in "les disparus..",to hide mysterious treasures,actually,the best years of their lives.When Catherine(Odile Versois) appears in Merlin's(François Périer) life ,it' no longer the same world.It's easy to see why it may infuriate some viewers.
The detective plot gets in the way.One of Very's poorest ideas,it does not hang well with the rest of the movie.In "les disparus.."there's no discrepancy .It would have been better to do without the female part:Odile Versois ,a very good actress-sadly to die from cancer in 1980- is wasted ,and,as an user smartly noticed,when this beautiful woman dies at such an early age ,absolutely nobody sheds a tear,not even her uncle,not even her lover.The uncle will cry later,but over his old buildings,and to him,the "three musketeers"(Reggiani,Périer and Blier,Versois' lover) 's reconciliation means that he will go to his grave a satisfied mind.
Very and his director Lampin took risks at the time.The childhood's end world is particularly hard to handle,and confronting it with the adults one leaves sometimes a bitter taste in the mouth.The magic was intact in "les disparus".Here there's a crack in the mirror.
Watch it anyway.Its enthusiastic first part will make it all worthwhile.
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