Starring: Jean Gabin, Arletty, Jules Berry
Director: Marcel Carné
The Least Picture Show already aired its thoughts on Marcel Carné’s troubled 1939 masterpiece when it was recently given a cinema outing (see our review here). We’ll therefore confine our comments to a few observations concerning the picture quality and extras on this new Blu-ray release.
What we have here is an HD transfer of a 4K restoration, and not only does it look stunning, it also enhances one’s appreciation of the film’s themes and techniques. The way Carné allows certain high key details – a cigarette, Jean Gabin’s eyes, a white dress – to glimmer through his webs of shadow comes across brilliantly. When Francoise (Jacqueline Laurent) appears for the first time, turning up at the noisy, filthy factory where Gabin’s character works, her printed frock stands out with unearthly brightness. It shines in the same way when he visits her at her humble lodgings – a symbol of virginal goodness which turns out, alas, to be largely deceptive. Wherever you look, there are small pleasures, details that suddenly flash into life – the sparkles on Arletty’s stage costume, the bravura deep focus shot down the staircase of Gabin’s boarding house.
Turning to the extras, there’s a 14-minute pieces about the restoration – a laborious process that included having to repair by hand the brown-nitrate negative, which had become infected with mould. There’s also a thorough and well-crafted 95-minute making of documentary. This talks about the political background to the film – the sense of pre-war edginess, and the abortive national strike of 1938 – and the origins of the story in a 4-page treatment by Jacques Viot, a shady art dealer who seems to have become the unwitting model for Valentin, the film’s volatile and mendacious villain. Carné’s love of working in the studio and his unattractive behaviour on set are discussed, and a lot of time is devoted to the film’s screenwriter, the poet Jacques Prevert. We get to see the rustic table cluttered with bric-a-brac where he poured out scripts, poems and songs, and we learn about his love affair with Jacqueline Laurent, the very pretty actress who played Francoise. All in all, an unmissable purchase for fans of classic French cinema.