Monday, May 7, 2007
Port of Shadows (1938)
A solid entry in the poetic French realism genre, Marcel Carné's Port of Shadows is a bleak, atmospheric urban drama.
The story concerns Jean, a deserter from the French army (played by that eternal victim of society, legendary French actor, Jean Gabin) who arrives in the port of Le Havre, where, by chance, he gets offered a new identity and safe passage to Venezuela, but he hesitates and is reluctant to leave because he has met and fallen in love with Nelly (Michèle Morgan). He also meets the port's owner, Zabel (recognizable regular Michel Simon), and a jealous, baby-faced petty gangster named Lucien Laugardier (Pierre Brasseur).
This being poetic French realism, it really toes a line towards film noir, a French term for a style of film to be invented in America shortly thereafter. The film is filled with gray, overcast skies, threatening to rain at any moment, massive amounts of fog, and lots of high contrast (it isn't called the "port of shadows" for nothing), and Carne films it as such...this is a place that would be more realistic if it wasn't so damn amazing to look at.Gabin does what Gabin always does, which is act bewildered while bad things happen to him, ignorant to the fact that they're mostly brought on by himself, consigning to his fate while simultaneously creating it. Simon and Brasseur are solid, but underused, seemingly only appearing when needed. Morgan is attractive and enigmatic, but, like everyone else, fairly underused, despite being the main female. This is Gabin's film. Gabin and his hopelessness are the stars here, and they permeate the film. The ending has a bit of a tacked-on feeling that doesn't grow very naturally out of the actual story, but it's a minor quibble and seems more that every poetic French realistic film ends...pretty much like every film noir, and there's no argument there.
Good, solid and mostly unremarkable, the duo of Carne and Gabin would team up the following year for the far-superior, captivating Daybreak. This is on the lower end of my 1938 experience, and thus, 7.5/10, #5 on my now-Six of 1938.