Previous Top Ten By Year lists:
1935, 1983, 1965, 1943, 1992, 1978, 1925, 1969
1930

Previous Top Ten By Year: 1949 Posts:
Top Ten By Year: 1949 – Poll Results
100 Images from the Films of 1949
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1949: A Love Letter
#10. The Queen of Spades (UK/Dickinson)

For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year project:
The majority of my viewing habits have been dictated by this project since September of 2013. Jumping to a different decade each time, I choose comparatively weaker years for me re: quantity of films seen/quantity of films loved. I use list-making as a way to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-drive way. I was sick of spending too much time trying to decide what to watch, or watching films just to cross them off another dumb canon list. I wanted to engage. I wanted films to be enhanced by others, by looking at a specific moment in time. I wanted something that led me to seeing or revisiting things I might not have gotten to otherwise. Lastly, my lists are based on personal favorites, not any weird notion of an objective best.

This is the first year I’ll be doing separate posts for each film. #9 will go up Monday. After that, one will go up each day until the end. Then I’ll post them all together so they are gathered in one place. There are a lot of films I loved that did not make the cut. In particular, Flamingo Road, Such a Pretty Little Beach, On the Town, Inspirace, The Reckless Moment, Reign of Terror, The Rocking Horse Winner, and Samson and Delilah are all films I thought at one point would be on here. Of all of these, Flamingo Road was a sure thing until it wasn’t at the very last minute. Please go watch it.

 

#9. Rendezvous in July (Becker) & Au royaume des cieux (Duvivier) (France) (first time watches)

Diametrically opposed visions of postwar French youth: the dreamers and the delinquents. Two unknown films by two well-known directors (Jacques Becker and Julien Duvivier). I couldn’t choose between the two; they belong together.
————————————————————————————————
Rendezvous in July (Becker) is about twenty-year old kids who can see the Eiffel Tower from their windows. It is a light spring breeze that is on-the-move, because there are places to be and dreams to achieve. We’re first introduced to a family we’ll never see again. This is a pattern that continues through the first fifteen minutes. Our main characters are all introduced alongside their parents, illustrating how markedly different these proto teeny-boppers are from their elders. Collectively, these adults cover all the bases of your standard generational gap; they have practical jobs and adhere to custom, and they mostly disapprove of the instability of artistic endeavor. But these kids are idealistic, and pretty, and talented. They are aspiring actors, playwrights, cinematographers, documentarians, and musicians. They are riding the high of the postwar Americanization boom; they wear pants, love jazz, and smoke American cigarettes (a character offers one to his dad who disdainfully replies with “Keep em”).

What makes Rendezvous in July special is its intense possession of the perky energy we’d soon associate with the phenomenon of 50s teeny-bopperdom. I can’t think of an earlier film that depicts youth with the kind of modern immediacy that would become commonplace in the upcoming decades. It must have felt so new watching these characters congregate and flit from place to place, cavorting as a group entity with all the, as the Grinch would say, noise, noise, noise, noise! These kids dance fast to fast music, but Becker speeds up the frame rate all the same.

Dwp6BW7XcAExeXy.jpg

The centerpiece of the group’s carefree whimsy is the Boat-Car Shark, (because a river can’t stop these kids from getting where they need to). It is one of your rubber bath toys made life-size and fully operational, with Keith Haring-esque hieroglyphs (eyes and octopi that recur on other costumes and decor) and headlights for eyes. It floats across the Seine while passersby look on, noting that “they sure have it easy”. They drive up and out onto the cobblestone, dropping everyone off at their various classes and odd-jobs, a communal vehicle that can provide them with the shortcuts needed to keep up with their pace.

They are at an age where anything and everything is possible as long as you’ve got talent and idealism. For all the bounce in this film’s step, there is just enough space made for us to observe that the bubble is burstable. There is no place in the film for people potentially going nowhere, and no tolerance for any irreparable steps taken towards the workaday life.

Lucien (Daniel Gélin) finally gets the funding he needs for an anthropological study. He excitedly tells his film crew they are due to leave within two weeks. But the crew can no long go; they made various job commitments in order to earn steady wages. It is a deep betrayal; he becomes petulant and has what can only be described as a tantrum. He calls them, among many other things, pathetic slobs. Lucien’s disparaging plea that his friends don’t sell out so young is sympathetic — to a point. That choice is so often the point of no return, where you cross over and become just like everybody else. But the more you get to know Lucien, the more incapable he seems of registering anybody else’s feelings. I can’t tell if Becker intends (or even sees) for the character, or if it’s just apparent to me. However, Lucien’s speech to his friends goes on long enough that it settles into something purposefully ugly. But while Lucien and others take steps towards success and opportunity, a girl named Christine suffers a series of humiliations.

Rendez-vous-de-juillet-1949-2

As much as I love Rendezvous in July, it probably wouldn’t be here without Christine. Jacques Becker sees her but her peers do not. He and Nicole Courcel (her debut film) let us see. This is a clique where identity and emotion are defined by your talent and passion. The plight of realizing you don’t have talent, and its unfortunate companion deep insecurity, is an unforgiving thing, especially with friends that don’t recognize or relate to said plight. She is seen by the group as a bit of a vindictive femme. To a degree she is, but it all stems from the fact that she sees beauty as her one sure thing.

At first we see her as her friends do:

In an early scene, she calls Therese (Brigitte Auber, also her debut) to tell her she has a part in Rousseau’s (Henri Belly) new play (her brother is the playwright, getting her in the door). Therese is disappointed about this, and it’s the exact reaction Christine was hoping for.  A smirk spreads across her face when she hangs up.

When the time comes, Christine is too nervous to audition for Rousseau; she puts his hand to her chest so he can feel her heartbeat. Sexuality is the only hand she feels she’s got to play in that moment.

She is bad in the play and she knows it. She didn’t need further proof, but during the curtain call the audience gives it to her anyways; a limp round of applause meets her when she steps forward, the opposite of Therese’s lively reception. Audience members share an exchange: “She’s pretty, eh? “Pretty, but very bad”. In the dressing room, she is chastised by Rousseau (who she lost her virginity too) for being sad: “Your dress is great. You look lovely. What more do you want?”.

Every single scene shows how thoroughly unseen this girl is. She is viewed as inferior to Lucien (her romantic interest), told she has no heart; she is even slapped. The list goes on. Some of the men also make selfish decisions (out of pure selfishness as opposed to coming from a place of pain like Christine), and then blame her for their choices. Rousseau chose to cast a girl who doesn’t cut it, only to scream at her for — guess what — not cutting it. Lucien is impulsive and proposes to Christine after making her feel like scum. When Christine is led astray after feeling worthless, just like before, it is she that receives all the disgust.

That this girl feels everything is never considered. Indeed, nobody ever shows actual concern for her, or sees her very apparent sadness. A girl who acts out because she feels less than is constantly misunderstood as dumb, not worthy of Lucien, a bad actress, and heartless. Nicole Courcel pours a deep melancholy and ache into this girl looking to be valued, using the only tool she thinks she’s got (the how and who of that be damned). She is the only one with nothing at the end. I think about Christine all the time. Everybody else, with their bubbly spirits and camaraderie, will be fine by virtue of the fact that they are in this film. Except Christine. Christine has more in common with the girls of Au Royaume des Cieux.

DzFPxDBWkAAU3T2.jpg

The girls of Au Royaume des Cieux don’t have the luxury of dreams, or even hope. They are just trying to survive in the Haute-Mère reformatory. They are in a far-off and desolate landscape, a place that can only produce rain and mud (another French film from 1949, Such a Pretty Little Beach, uses a very similar landscape as its existential center). There are so many girls — all of them abused, thrown away and/or forgotten. They often huddle together and jam up the frames; it is a crowded and imprisoning space. Most have dabbled in sex work and some have murdered (viewed by society under the same criminal category). They are a rowdy bunch full of pent up lust and the nerve to still act rambunctious despite being beaten down by life.

They have rare allies in a couple of the authority figures, but that is threatened right at the start. A sudden death puts Mademoiselle Chamblas (Suzy Prim) in charge as director, a position she has craved for 20 years. She is the repressed headmistress archetype think Lili Palmer in The House that Screamed (1969)), misogynistic in nature and conception. This is a film full of transgressive streaks of eroticism; talk of same-sex exploits is a near-constant. While the lesbianism and sadism are not conflated, they are linked to establish a place that makes taboo happenings and histories part of the everyday. These girls have no hope that they can or will exist in the outside world, but at least the reformatory is a safer space than they’ve known. With Chamblas as director, all of that disappears and they are thrust into yet more worthless cruelty. But as Chamblas ascends, a girl named Maria (Suzanne Cloutier) enters. It is her purity and goodness that will gradually mobilize everyone into a revolution.

Maria hasn’t been convicted of any crimes, but pervasively unsafe living arrangements have kept her running away from various homes. Like the other girls, she is seen by society and its systems as the problem, punished for daring to endure, retaliate, or do what is needed to get by. Along the way Maria did find love. Real love. And he is coming for her. At first it seems like Au royaume des cieux is going to be about Maria and Pierre (Serge Reggiani) making their escape. Thankfully, it’s about a lot more than that (love and respect to Maria and Pierre who are sweet, but also too sweet). The couple, with their optimism, devotion, and will, come to represent hope for the girls. At first there is much animosity and infighting, but they eventually unite for a bigger cause — themselves. With their secret ingredient (resident anarchist Camille) acting as final inspiration, they riot and take control of Haute-Mère.

Duvivier’s camera singles out the girls as individuals during key moments. We get a brief reckoning glimpse of each; they get the frame to themselves, as if the camera is taking their photograph. It happens when Maria tells them about Pierre. The more she talks about him, the less it seems like a poor girl’s naivete. Some believe she’s either delusional or foolish. But most become convinced. You can see the hope breaking through on their faces. Love is possible. It’s not all manipulation and lies and violence. It happens again when the girls go on a hunger strike in retaliation of Chamblas’s new policies. Days into their starvation, the school director rolls a gigantic steaming pot of soup to the middle of the room where they all sleep, taunting them with the smell to give up their protests. The camera whip-pans back and forth, soup-to-girl, girl-to-soup, through each and every one of them. We feel the whirlwind of individual temptation and suffering, allowed to register that power lies in numbers, but that those numbers are made up of human beings pushing themselves to the brink for the rights they deserve.
—————————————————————————-
Diametrically opposed visions of postwar French youth: the dreamers and the delinquents. Two unknown films by two well-known directors (Jacques Becker and Julien Duvivier). I couldn’t choose between the two; they belong together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s