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A man is charged with murder. He is Pigoil, the aging stage manager at Chansonia, a music hall in a Paris faubourg. His confession is a long flashback to New Year's Eve, 1935, when he discovers his wife is unfaithful and Galapiat, the local mobster, closes the music hall. Over the next few months, Pigoil loses custody of his beloved son, Jo-Jo, and must find work. Pigoil and his pals take over the Chansonia as a co-op; Galapiat is momentarily benign. Their star is the young Douce, a girl from near Lille for whom Galapiat lusts. She in turn falls in love with Milou, a local Red. There are ups and downs, but mostly ups - but what about Jo-Jo and what about the murder? Written by
Faubourg is not French for "the district." It is a contraction of "faux bourg", French for "false town" and were used to designate smaller towns attached to larger towns or cities. A lot of these faubourgs were independent cities until they were attached to Paris and lost all independence around during the 17th and 18th century. A new outer wall was later erected around the city. These faubourgs, especially those on the East side, were usually blue collar, with a very active night life. See more »
When Jacky accidentally turns on the radio while Pigoil is talking to his wife and her new lover, the radio is very loud immediately after Jacky flips the switch. On this type of old tube amplified radio, it would take several seconds for the tubes to heat up and amplify any signal, and the volume would go up very slowly. See more »
This is not a great film, a masterpiece of cinema-as-art. It is, however, a wonderful movie that will delight you while you watch it and leave you with many happy musical memories after it has finished.
Though the director and star are the same, this movie does not resemble Les Choristes. It is, instead, an homage to French popular music of the 1930s (and 1940s). If you don't know that music and the stars who made it famous, you'll miss the many references. The movie will still be enjoyable, but it won't evoke the memories (and pleasures) that it would to French viewers over 60.
The music, most of it original, nevertheless comes very close to pastiche of popular numbers from that era. (One repeated number is very close to Messager's "Clou clou," which I think is from his Véronique.) The performances and characters also allude to stars of the past, though not necessarily in a one-on-one way. There is the music hall singer Tony Rossignol, whose light lyric tenor recalls Tino Rossi, though his Spanish get-up and music recalls Luis Mariano. Kad Merad's character starts out doing terrible impressions, of animals and Fernandel. He finally has a hit when he starts singing like Charles Trenet. Even though the music is pastiche, it is sometimes very catchy, and very much caught me up.
One of the previous reviewers said that Clovis Cornilliac was made up as Jean Gabin but couldn't reproduce the latter's charisma. I hope he was not meant to recall Gabin, because he certainly doesn't. He's pleasant in his role, as is the female lead, but the star is definitely Gerard Jugniot, who gives yet another first-rate performance.
This won't make the viewing list for any course on French cinema, nor should it. But you'll definitely enjoy it.
P.S. I watched this movie again, about a year after my first viewing of it. While I still found it enjoyable, I realize, in rereading my review, that it was the last part, with all the music, that made the strong impression on me. One of the reviews written since my first one notes that the movie might have been more memorable if there had been more music spread throughout it, and I agree. The show the company originally stages is bad vaudeville, and bad vaudeville numbers have only limited appeal. The subplot concerning Galapiat and the French fascists is somehow disconnected from the rest. Having subsequently seen that same actor, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, in L'affaire Salengro, where he played someone on the other side of that fight, I realize how much better the issue could have been presented.
The film is definitely worth watching, and should please most viewers. Gérard Jugnot gives yet another very fine, very moving performance. I don't know how well it will repay repeated viewings, however. I don't know if I would want to watch it myself a third time.
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