Le Jour Se Léve Review

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of its first release, this marvellous restoration of Le Jour Se Léve (1939) by Éclair also includes scenes cut by the Vichy Regime at the time for clearly being too provoking or racy (one of the scenes features a naked Arletty). Marcel Carné is most famous for his grand and wonderful Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), but before he made that classic of French cinema he made more intimate dramas such as this one starring the most famous and revered French actor at the time Jean Gabin (who also starred in his Port of Shadows (1938)).

The film starts off as a mystery- putting the ending at the beginning, a device used by many films these days from Sunset Boulevard (1950) to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), but which at the time I imagine must’ve been quite unusual. We are brought to a five story guesthouse in a Parisian working-class neighbourhood on the top floor we hear shouts and a gunshot, then a door opens and the body of a man tumbles down the stairs and people and police start to crowd the room that the killer has locked himself in. The rest of the film is spent via three main flashbacks, a pioneering narrative device in French sound cinema at the time, seeing why this man was shot.

The story centres around working-class orphan and factory worker François (Jean Gabin) – also allegedly a stand-in for the failing People’s Front, who finds himself falling for the beautiful fellow orphan and florist Françoise (Jacqueline Laurent). But the love affair is complicated when he finds out that she’s also seeing an older man, dog trainer Valentin (Jules Berry). Through a performance of Valentin’s he also meets the intriguing Clara (Arletty) Valentin’s assistant and lover and starts an affair with her out of jealousy.

Jean Gabin does a good job of conveying the hard-on-his-luck, frustrated, working-class man and orphan François just trying to make the most of his lot, an unconventional hero manipulated by circumstances to commit crime. While Jules Berry plays the part of Valentin with scene-stealing energy and conviction, Gabin and Berry’s scenes together as they confront each other and trade off insults based on their different statuses are great to watch; with Berry really showing the pomp and arrogance of a man who aspires to be upper-class and own women like possessions or his dogs. And every time Arletty comes onto the screen she is magnetic to behold, feisty, quick-witted and moving as the woman who ultimately gets left behind.

The design of the film is also one of its chief assets, utilising the style of poetic realism, it uses moody German Expressionist influenced lighting, and a grand studio set up which includes the towering guest house and crane shots which take in all the many floors of the guest-house (allowing us to see all the guesthouse customer’s confusion and curiosity), highlighting the great roving camerawork of Curt Courant.

The film also has nice little humorous moments which captures the attitudes of the working-class inhabitants, seeing them as they gossip about how nice they thought François was, or complaining about where they’re going to live now after this murder. Or moments such as when the police commissioner (Jacques Baumer), complains at the policemen’s incompetency firing shots all over the place.

Although not as good and engaging as Les Enfants du Paradis it’s certainly interesting and atmospheric film, innovative for its time and worth a watch particularly for fans of French cinema (the story of a crime de passion couldn’t be more French if it tried).

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