(1939) director Marcel Carné
I ended up queuing Marcel Carné’s Le jour se lève after seeing it listed among a number of other films as early non-American film noirs. While aspects of it could be considered somewhat proto-noir, it doesn’t really bear out the film noir but rather as “poetic realism”, a style that had brief popularity in France in the 1930’s that later influence Italian neo-realism and the French New Wave. Certainly, when it comes to styles, few films are so pure that they can be quite simply classified in a number of ways, utterly exclusive of other categories.
The film stars the ubiquitous Jean Gabin as a factory worker who falls in love with a woman from a flower shop. She, however, falls under the sway of an older gentleman with a silver tongue, who stages an act with performing dogs and speaks of travel and a life far removed from her urban experience. Gabin takes up with the dog trainer’s ex-lover in the meantime, but still loves his flower shop fille. But the cad continues to harangue him, gibe him, and make life miserable.
But the film actually opens with Gabin slaying his oppressor. The film follows Gabin who has locked himself in his top floor apartment, holding off the police with a gun, and the story comes about in a series of flashbacks, leading to understand how Gabin’s character wound up in this situation.
I’d never seen any of Marcel Carné’s films, even though his Children of Paradise (1945) is popularly considered one of the best French films of all time in France. The film fits well with Jean Renoir’s La bête humaine (1938) or The Lower Depths (1936), which might also be considered a representative of poetic realism as well, featuring humanist stories, steeped perhaps in a literary tradition, depicting life on the lower echelons of the social structure. And like those films, it’s quite well-done, featuring a number of interesting camera techniques and weaving a compelling fatalistic yarn.