Quatorze Juillet (1933)

20 07 2009

Not quite as innovative as Á nous la liberté (which actually came two years earlier) but it certainly is just as funny. Also, instead of a rather heavy-handed rant against industrialism and everything it entails, this is a very sweet and tender ode to a young romance. In its own cutesy (not a fault in this case) and very French way, it reminds me of a Frank Borzage film. It is perhaps one-dimensional and unrealistic in its depiction of love, but it feels right and looks wonderful.

Jean, a taxi cab driver and Anna, a flower girl, are very much in love during the celebration of Bastille Day in Paris, France. They quarrel, but they fail back into eachothers’ arms before the night is over. Jean returns back to his apartment with a not so pleasant surprise, his ex-lover Paula. It only takes a few minutes to realize that she is a manipulator, the antithesis of Anna, and she talks Jean into letting her spend the night. With her arrival comes the departure of Jean and Anna’s relationship. She pushes Jean into the shady lifestyle of gangster, a life where his closest friends are missing. More importantly, Anna is nowhere to be seen as well.

Taking the Borzage comparison into account, it is pretty easy to see where the narrative turns from here. Needless to say, the conclusion is not just touching, it is life-affirming, assuming the viewer is in the right state of mind and isn’t a completely hopeless cynic. The depiction of love here (and in a majority of Borzage’s pictures) is naive, almost fairytale-esque, but there’s a grain of truth to it all, and this tiny truthful fragment is what makes Clair’s picture work.

Clair’s formal experimentation from his previous films is pretty much absent here, but instead his aesthetic represents a well-formed, albeit more conventional cinematic presentation. The sound here is natural, not ambient abstraction, which kind of helps the comedic relief flow much better, but I suppose it calls less attention to itself. Depending on your outlook, this is either a good thing or a bad thing. Watching Clair’s work for its technical accomplishments is a just thing to do, he was (or is) a master, but his art goes beyond its form. There’s something profoundly moving about this love story, no matter how predictable and old-fashioned it seems.

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3 responses

21 07 2009
Mango

This movie is so great, and I am surprised you watched it. I’m not sure why it’s been overshadowed by Clair’s first three sound films (not that their much appreciated today) — though not as innovative as those (more comfortable with its technique), its story and romance are in many ways more satisfying and coherent. I approve of the Borzage comparison, and the sophisticated naivety of both’s romanticism I find extremely attractive (and is perhaps one of the most attractive qualities I find in films). And Annabella is amazing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this and I wish I could see it again (but am worried about ratio…). Any other thoughts on this or Clair in general? I hadn’t known you were interested in his work. I’ve always wanted to have a discussion about him but no one seems to care about him.

21 07 2009
Jake Savage

So far so good with Clair. I’ve only seen this, Á nous la liberté, and Paris qui dort. I’ve pretty much loved them all, though my recollections of Paris qui dort are rather foggy. Describing what I like about his universe is rather difficult, it is a big like trying to explain why I would want to be happy. I just do, and that’s how Clair’s film make me feel. They’re filled with cutesy French-ness that I’m sure is a drawback for many, but I love that stuff. It gives Clair’s work a time and place which is enhanced by the relentless romanticism and Clair’s own technical showcase.

Annabella is indeed amazing here, as she is in Jean Gremillon’s Maldone. You should definitely see that if you haven’t already. It’s a bit more “heavy” than Clair’s stuff, but it is equally stunning.

21 07 2009
Mango

You should definitely see Under the Roofs of Paris and Le Million. What first drew me into Clair’s films were their simplicity. I think you rightly note that his lightness is not easily taken by today’s crowd, which is too bad. I’ve wanted to see more of his silent films and more of his later sound films (from the 50s), but they’re not easy to get.

I’ve also wanted to see Maldone; any Gremillion, really, but they’re not easy to get, either. Nor are Annabella’s films. Depressing.

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