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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Friday, September 14, 2012
7:00 p.m. Le jour se lève
Marcel Carné (France, 1939)

(Daybreak). One of the finest examples of French poetic realist cinema, Marcel Carné’s fatalist classic offers up the dead ends, despair, and thwarted love of most American film noirs, with a mood-drenched romanticism contributed by poet Jacques Prévert and a sense of doom contributed by historical circumstances (it was one of the last French films made before Germany’s invasion of France). Jean Gabin is an honest sod of a working man, barricaded in his boarding-house hovel with only some cigarettes, a gun, a teddy bear, and a dream of love while he waits for daybreak, and an inevitable police assault. How he got there, and how a dead man wound up in his stairwell, carries the plot. Daybreak that brings only an ending, and one character’s realization that “memories aren’t much use when you want to be made love to,” are the true core of this atmospheric tale of romance and emotional isolation.

—Jason Sanders

• Adaptation, dialogue by Jacques Prévert, from an original script by Jacques Viot. Photographed by Curt Courant, Philippe Agostini, André Bac. With Jean Gabin, Arletty, Jules Barry, Jacqueline Laurent. (87 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Institut Français, permission Rialto Pictures)