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Given its stale subject (the son of wealthy family elopes with the wife of a notary, thus shaming the family name) and its outdated morality (even if you make mistakes, being part of the possessors automatically makes you a respected person), "Les Roquevillard", made in the occupied France of 1943, should be just unwatchable. But not at all : seeing this film is in no way an ordeal. Credit for that goes to gifted (and still slightly underrated) director Jean Dréville, who manages to make the most of Charles Exbrayat's adaptation of Henry Bordeaux's old-fashioned novel. The weak point of "Les Roquevillard" is that its script retains the novelist's unreserved plea for great families and the ruling class. For, it has to be said, crying over those poor rich is a hard thing to do unless you belong to their cast. Nevertheless, there are a few good points in the screenplay such as the presence of two interesting characters, a malicious notary named Hector Frasne (played with cool conviction by Jacques Varennes) and Jeanne Sasseray, a fresh, vivacious and outspoken young lady ( performed with the required dose of snap by Simone Valère). It also contains some fine lines such as the one delivered by Simone Valère: "I've got to take advantage of my youth to be candid. I'll have all the time in the world to be false later on." But the real quality of "Les Roquevillard" lies in Jean Dréville's artistic choices. The images of his film are really beautiful: fine framing, discreet but efficient camera movements, carefully crafted shots, magnificent lighting based on interplay between light and shadow. On the other hand, he is a good actor director, getting a great actor performance from Charles Vanel (much more restrained than usual) and a passable one from small-time thespians by the name of Jean Pâqui or Raymond Galle. The only really unsatisfactory interpretation surprisingly comes from the usually dependable Fernand Charpin, really ridiculous as a highly improbable Italian sculptor. His Marseilles accent really won't do! All in all, for all its shortcomings, "Les Roquevillard" is a globally good movie whereas in other hands than Jean Dréville's, it could have been an awful turkey. Some kind of a feat, in a way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is extremely reactionary stuff;the beginning tells the whole
story:with a great organ musical background in a church,you can see all
the Prie-Dieus with the names of the Roquevillard family written on
them;in their valuable property "La Vigie" ,Charles Vanel,the patriarch
, is proud of his forefathers who built this fortune ,this small empire
."One day,you'll own the whole country" he's told.And they give to the
poor on Sunday's service and all their sons and daughters are
well-respected men and women...till....
One of the sons (Jean Paqui) runs away with the notary's wife ;for this embittered husband,jealous of the Roquevillard's fortune ,time has come to drive this proud family down.
But do not panic:blame it on the wife,she is a femme fatale,it's her who is responsible for the young man's shameless behavior;it's her who stole dough from her hubby's safe;Eve and the forbidden fruit all over again.
A travesty of a trial (bourgeoisie vs bourgeoisie)shows how great Vanel was:he manages to transcend the stodgy lines he 's got to deliver as his dear son's lawyer,calling all his ancestors to the rescue (like Sacha Guitry called all the French heroes in his 1942 effort-"1429/1942:De Jeanne D'Arc A Philippe Pétain" to make the French forget their infamous occupation)."Hold your head high,you're part of a family with a capital F" the father seems to say as they triumphantly leave the court.
It couldn't have come at a better time,in the 1943 Petain days ,with its glorification of the -wealthy- family and its contempt for bad gals .
You should see this movie:it's part of the occupation days cultural heritage.
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