A young couple, Renee and Pierre, take one night a room at the Hotel du Nord, in Paris, near the canal Saint-Martin. They want to die together, but after having shooted at Renee, Pierre ...
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A young couple, Renee and Pierre, take one night a room at the Hotel du Nord, in Paris, near the canal Saint-Martin. They want to die together, but after having shooted at Renee, Pierre lacks of courage and ran away. Another customer, Monsieur Edmond, a procurer, rescues her. When Renee goes out of the hospital, she is hired as a waitress at the hotel. Monsieur Edmond falls in love with her, but Renee is still thinking of Pierre ...Written by
Over the banks of Canal St Martin in Paris, there is "Hotel du Nord", a creation of novelist Eugene Dabit, dialogist Henri Jeanson and director Marcel Carne, a purgatory for the past sins, a lost station where people can relieve themselves from the burden of the pasts, as the weight of luggage thrown on the bed. There's something oddly definite in a hotel room, everyone stays, but some just don't want to be reminded they'll have to go, sooner or later.
The film opens with people celebrating a communion and the atmosphere (beware, this is a word you'll often find in this review) is cheerful with people joking about cops and religion. There is the local lock keeper who takes some pride from regularly giving his blood while he should be more suspicious about the kind of services his very wife provides, she seems to be too much of a good public for the local womanizer but Bertrand Blier in his earlier years of good-natured cuckolds' roles, fails to see it. There is an adopted Spanish kid goes to his mother's arm because the thunder reminds me of the Civil War's bombing, What this dinner with its gallery of colorful characters shows is that, in the interwar period, people took life as it came, at times enjoyed it but some didn't find reasons to find enjoyment, and the past had a lot to do with it.
The film centers on two couples, starting with Raymonde (Arletty) and Monsieur Edmond (Louis Jouvet) who're not "at the party", which literally in French, means that they're far from this universe and don't care about it. In all fairness, Raymonde seems to care about people, she is enthusiastic and welcomes the little girl who brought her a piece of cake, her companion, the grouchy Edmond asks why he doesn't have one. We suspect he couldn't care less and only needed a reason to complain, he's a man who won't let one smile slip from his face, maybe because life plays like a succession of thunders reminding of previous bombings. He eats, he drinks, smokes, practices his hobby which is photography, but inside, he's dead. Raymonde lives and smiles for two, she join the guests and lets her man alone. We'll find out later that they had a past that partly explains their opposite natures.
The other couple is Renee and Pierre (Annabella and Jean-Pierre Aumont), they're young and good-looking and they're ready to commit suicide, they just lost it, they don't trust the world anymore and 'Hotel du Nord' was the edge of their lives, like "Romeo and Juliet", they're dying together. Their dialogues are sentimental and almost too theatrical, contrasting with the lively slang of Arletty and Jouvet and the film takes a weird dark melodramatic turn until we hear a 'bang'. When Edmond gets in the room, he finds Renée lying in the bed and her lover who didn't have the guts to pull the trigger for him; Edmond lets him go and calls the Police. Renee survives but in her act of death, she gave Edmond a reason to live. There's no shortage of ironies in 'Hotel du Nord' and this one is the most poignant.
Edmond find someone unhappier than him and realizes very soon that he can't stand Raymonde. This leads to the iconic moment of the film, one that might be lost in translation, but that can't be ignored due to its resonance in the history of French cinema. Edmond planned to travel with Raymonde then he gave up; realizing that the problem isn't in the destination but the company. He's suffocating with Raymonde, he needs to change his atmosphere, which she is. Now, can you even describe an appeal that all lies in the thick Parisian accent of Arletty who finally has her rebellious moment, tired of her companion's tantrum and shouting "Atmosphere? Atmosphere! do I look like an atmosphere?" This is a line that has the same resonance as the 'Waterfront' contender speech or 'You talking' to me?' It came to the point that people would see the film because of this line they generally heard of before even seeing the film.
Does the line capture the spirit of 'Hotel du Nord'? Yes and no. No, because it wasn't meant to, the word doesn't carry any particular meaning, it just transcended itself in the mouth of Arletty, proving that cinema works in mysterious ways, any quote can become legendary just because it has the right accent, intonation and actor to deliver it. And yes, because this is a key word when you think about it, it's all about the atmosphere where we can find life more livable. The film opens with many couples, some stay the same, some break up and get back together, some live, some try to travel but then realize they have more to lose in leaving and some are tied to other people and can't do any move without them.
Arletty and Jouvet are the two driving forces, the yin and the yang, the woman whose heart is like a window opening to welcome the glow of the morning and the man who lives in perpetual nighttime and realizes that there might not be an atmosphere for him. And through "Hotel du Nord", Marcel Carné proved his importance on the field of French cinema, after "Quai des Brumes" which featured Gabin as a deserter, he went for a less controversial subject, and made film about little people who wonder in the same place and try to find a meaning in their lives, without making their quest too existential, some are stuck to the past, some pray for a brighter future, and some live in the present. The following year, present, past and future will all make one: war.
So like a seeming calm before the" premonitory storm, 'Hotel du Nord' is like a fascinating conjunction of three visions of life, or let's say three atmospheres.
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