Synopsis: Though little known outside of France, Jean Grémillon is a consummate filmmaker from his country's golden age. A classically trained violinist who discovered cinema as a young man when his orchestra was hired to accompany silent movies, he went on to make almost fifty films—which ranged from documentaries to avant-garde works to melodramas with major stars—in a career that started in the mid-1920s and didn't end until the late 1950s. Three of his richest films came during a dire period in French history: REMORQUES, starring Jean Gabin, was begun in 1939 but finished and released after Germany invaded France, and LUMIÈRE D'ÉTÉ and LE CIEL EST À VOUS were produced during the occupation.These are character-driven dramas that reveal either a society on the precipice of doom or people breaking free of societal limitations; humane, entertaining, and technically brilliant, they show Grémillon to be one of cinema's true hidden masters.
REMORQUES (1941, 84 minutes, Black & White, Monaural, In French with English subtitles, 1.33:1 aspect ratio): Jacques Prévert cowrote this atmospheric tale of the romantic trials of a tugboat captain, played by the iconic French star Jean Gabin. For André and the other members of the Cyclone's crew, existence is harshly divided between the danger of the stormy seas and the safety of life at home with their patient women. When André meets temptation in the form of the alluring Catherine (Michèle Morgan) during a risky rescue, he comes perilously close to betraying his wife (Madeleine Renaud) of ten years. The haunting REMORQUES is distinguished by beautiful tracking shots and cunning special-effects work.
LUMIÈRE D'ÉTÉ (1943, 110 minutes, Black & White, Monaural, In French with English subtitles, 1.33:1 aspect ratio): A shimmering glass hotel at the top of a remote Provençal mountain provides the setting for a tragicomic tapestry about lives on the edge. This Jacques Prévert and Pierre Laroche–scripted tale of an obsessive love pentangle—whose principals range from artist to hotel manager to dam worker—was banned from theaters for the duration of the occupation for its dark portrayal of the hedonistic excesses of the ruling class.Today, it is often singled out as Grémillon's greatest achievement.
LE CIEL EST À VOUS (1944, 107 minutes, Black & White, Monaural, In French with English subtitles, 1.33:1 aspect ratio): In this soaring romantic drama, the wife (Madeleine Renaud) of a former fighter pilot (Charles Vanel) who is preoccupied with his glory days in the sky during World War I, falls in love with the idea of flying herself. This soon becomes an obsession, and she undertakes a lofty feat: the longest solo flight ever made by a woman. A warm look at a working-class family as well as a triumphant tale of determination, LE CIEL EST À VOUS was one of Grémillon's most successful films, and can be interpreted as a necessarily stealthy portrait of nonconformity.
Country of Origin: France
Production Year: 1944
- "The forgotten man of French cinema—belongs in the hierarchy of classic French cinema along with Rene Clair, Jean Renoir, and Marcel Carne.", The Village Voice