Hey New York! Jean Grémillon x2 4K Restoration at Metrograph
Jean Grémillon, largely overlooked and underrated among poetic realism directors of the 1930s in French cinema, finally gets some well-deserved recognition with two films -- Lady Killer and The Strange Mister Victor -- from the height of his career, beautifully restored in 4K, from the original negative, by Hiventy and Pathé.
New York's Metrograph is giving them a two-week theatrical run in the US for the first time, starting Friday, August 4. With his depiction of complicated human nature and sophisticated technical prowess, Grémillon deserves to be put in the same league with his better known contemporaries, Jean Renoir and Marcel Carné. True cinephiles shouldn't miss a chance to see Grémillon films in theaters in pristine conditions like this. Grasshopper Film is releasing.
Lady Killer (1937)
In the tradition of a fatalistic romance, Lady Killer features the biggest heartthrob at the time, Jean Gabin, playing a soldier named Bourrache, stationed in Orange, Southern France.
Because of his good looks and charm, he's known by his nickname, Gueule d'amour/lady killer, among local women. The story takes a turn when Bourrache meets Madelene (Mirielle Balin), a high-society Parisian girl in Cannes, and then lends her money that he just inherited from a relative, at the casino, which she subsequently blows at the gambling den. Then she ditches him.
This is the first time a woman did that to him and he can't forget her. After being discharged from the military, he looks her up in Paris, only to be seduced and dumped when confronted by her rich, old benefactor. Dejected and heartbroken, Burrache moves back to Orange and opens up a little bistro and leads a simple country life.
Then Madelene appears again, tracking him down by seducing his army doctor friend to find his whereabouts. She turns out to be an archetypal femme fatale, a controlling monster one loves to hate.
Working with German cinematographer Günther Rittau (Metropolis), Lady Killer has some impressive shadowplay recalling German Expressionism. It should also be noted that Lady Killer reflects the sentiment of France at the eve of WWII, including public's penchant for men in uniform (Fascism), and decent, ordinary men being corrupted by decadence (Capitalism, consumerism).
The Strange Mister Victor (1938)
On the surface, Victor Agardanne (Raimu) is an upstanding citizen of Toulon, a bustling port city in Southern France. He is a gregarious and bumbling man, who owns a successful general store. But he is in cahoots with criminals who've been making the local newspaper headlines with a series of violent robberies.
After one of the robbers, Amédée, threatens Agardanne with blackmail, Victor kills him with a local cobbler's tool. Bastien, the cobbler, gets convicted of the crime and gets 10 years of hard labor in the penal colony.
Seven years pass. Bastien escapes the colony, only to come back to Toulon to see his young son. Guilt-ridden Victor has not been the same person as before; now he's moody and irritable to his long-suffering wife Madeleine and his young son. He hides Bastien from the authorities at his home while playing a good hearted protector, who insists on the innocence of the fugitive. With Amédée's associates and authorities on his trail, Victor and Bastien will need to figure their way out.
The Strange Mister Victor is a taut morality tale with great characters all around. Great character actor and comedian Raimu shines as the title character with great range and humanity. Again, Grémillon shows his skills in sketching out the details of the locale and characters as well as balancing the mood of the film from comedic moments to thriller elements.
The 4K transfer was done from its original nitrate negative and other sources for The Strange Mister Victor in 2020 by Pathé. Its lively city symphony of Toulon in the beginning of the film is gorgeous to look at.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com