dir: Jean Renoir
When you’re told a film is one of the best of all time, you’re naturally going to be wary. The title is usually foisted upon Citizen Kane, but just as often it’s trotted out in terms of this film.
It’s easier to talk about popular films that have been seen by squillions of people, and judging their impact on the audience’s consciousness through the years rather than about some film from 70 years ago few people you know have ever heard of let alone seen. It one thing to debate whether Apocalypse Now is great, or Lawrence of Arabia, but arguing about something no-one under the age of 50 has seen is the ultimate in film wankery.
I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve watched the restored, Criterion Collection edition, with the commentaries by experts, the apologetic introduction by Renoir himself, scene by scene analyses by film experts, and a whole bunch of other documentaries on the film and the director. I just don’t see it.
See, I can watch Casablanca, and no-one needs to explain to me why it's a classic or a great film. If you need to explain it to me, then, well, draw your own conclusions.
It’s a pleasant enough film, don’t get me wrong. It has some interesting characters and seems to be saying lots of stuff about lots of topics. It’s even a pretty funny comedy in certain bits, if not downright farcical. Still, I’m not yet sure it’s the best thing since sliced cocaine.
Also, I grant that it is meticulously put together, is impeccably filmed and has a lot going on and beneath the surface. The problem is that viewed in such a way, it becomes an intellectual exercise in trying to define why something is a masterpiece, rather than watching it and being able to experience it for yourself.
If I tell you that the Australian no-budget vampire film Bloodlust is the greatest film of all time, you’re not going to care. If every film critic and film academic tells you Bloodlust is the greatest film ever, you’ll watch it, and from its opening frames you’ll be asking yourself “what’s so great about this?” Is it the copious use of fake blood, the appalling accents, the stupid actors, or the amount and quality of boobies?
It could be any one of those things, but the problem is both expectation and the attention you pay to the elements when you should be just watching the damned thing. If you just watch a movie without thinking about its outside reputation, you’ll respond according to whether you get into it or not. When you’re watching it from the point of view of history you are, to put it poetically, fucked.
Andre (Roland Toutain) lands his plane in Paris, after a heroic 23 hour flight from the States. Now it takes less than half of that, but back then, in the 1930s, I guess it was something of an achievement. When he doesn’t see the woman he loves waiting for his at the airport, he is heartbroken, and tells the world so through the magic of the radio.
Listening to the radio many miles away is the object of his affections, Christine (Nora Gregor) who seems unmoved by his remonstrations. She prepares for some enchanted evening by putting on her jewels and furry finery. She wanders into a room containing her semi-aristocrat husband Robert (Marcel Dalio) who’s also listening to the radio. He knows the aviator is talking about his wife Christine, but doesn’t seem too miffed about anything, and even seems quite forgiving. Moments after his wife asserts her complete trust in him Robert places a call to his mistress Genevieve (Mila Parely), who’s a hysterical strumpet if ever I saw one. And trust me, I've known a few.