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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Friday, September 14, 2012
8:50 p.m. Casque d’or
Jacques Becker (France, 1952)

Romantic fatalism, the French cinema of lost ideals, is associated with the 1930s, but it held sway well into the sixties. Seeing Casque d’or, one can see why Becker was a hero for the New Wave directors. It anticipates Shoot the Piano Player by a decade. With a fluidity that almost defies narrative plotting, Becker unfolds a tale of love doomed by its setting, the Paris demimonde at the turn of the century. A young Simone Signoret is sensual and sassy as the gigolette Marie, who abandons her gangster mec for an honest carpenter, Manda (Serge Reggiani). Becker calls up the spirit of Auguste Renoir to create a setting (by the river at Joinville) for the lovers’ meeting, and for a brief lifetime of happiness in scenes of heart-stopping sensuality. With her “golden helmet” (casque d’or) of hair, Signoret glows; Reggiani’s impassiveness is all the more moving for his ability to fuse with her.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Becker, Jacques Companeez. Photographed by Robert LeFebvre. With Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Claude Dauphin, Raymond Bussieres. (94 mins, In French with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Janus Films/Criterion Collection)