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Kingdom of Heaven,what a title for a movie which takes place in a girls' reformatory! It has become difficult to find this Duvivier forgotten gem.It took me years and years of searching before finally laying my hands on a ebay second-hand video tape .Once more,I was stunned:in a career which spans -roughly- the first half of the twentieth century,Duvivier's works almost always appeal and they innovate too:probably influenced by Pabst 's "Tagebuch einer Verlorenen" ,"Au Royaume des cieux" predates such works as " the Magdalene sisters " by half a century!And that's not all:Orson Welles, who was a Duvivier fan ,found his "Othello"'s Desdemona here:Suzanne Cloutier plays an unfortunate girl,in state care,who is unfairly sent to the sinister prison.
Duvivier is the French master of the film noir,only equaled by Henri-Georges Clouzot.Never the Nouvelle Vague produced a single worthwhile film noir .
Duvivier always painted the darker side of the human soul:his world is all wickedness,evil and despair.However in "au Royaume des Cieux" some sunlight does break through.The heroine has a lover (Serge Reggiani) who tries to help her escape from this living hell.A tutor (Monique Melinand) shows some compassion.And the priest does too.But what can they do when a head warden(Suzy Prim) finally sees her dreams come true when the former one -a sensitive good old lady- dies and makes way for her.Suzy Prim portrays a shrew who hates men,probably repressed sexually -a scene between her and Cloutier reaches peaks of hatred and violence- who sadistically treats her girls.And let us not forget the dog's name Goliath (sic).In Duvivier's works justice is often meted out by one of these gentle animals: see also "Voici le Temps des Assassin" and "Chair de Poule"
Remarkable scenes: the hunger strike ,which the infamous Prim tries to break by bringing them a delicious soup (Duvivier's camera masterfully shows the hungry faces ,then the steaming pot);the prisoners turning around the anarchist's dead body (Juliette Greco!);the desolate landscapes the Police car which takes the heroine to the prison crosses;the impending flood which will become a transparent metaphor of the fever which rises behind the reformatory walls.The two estranged lovers ,whose dreams concur beyond a prison's walls.And the last picture which beats Truffaut's "les quatre cent coups" at its own game .
Perhaps an optimistic world ,which is unusual in Duvivier's work,since all these lost girls discover,through their mate's true love that ,they can hope against hope.
The cast and credits :the soundtrack consists of bells ringing louder and louder:MM Duvivier and Jeanson,hats off!
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