Carnival in Flanders (film)

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Carnival in Flanders
LaKermesseHéroique.jpg
Poster
Directed by Jacques Feyder
Produced by Pierre Guerlais
Written by Jacques Feyder
Charles Spaak (story)
Robert A. Stemmle
Bernard Zimmer (dialogue)
Starring Françoise Rosay
Jean Murat
André Alerme
Music by Louis Beydts
Cinematography Harry Stradling Sr.
Edited by Jacques Brillouin
Distributed by Films Sonores Tobis
Release date(s)
  • 3 December 1935 (1935-12-03) (France)
  • 15 January 1936 (1936-01-15) (Germany)
Running time 110 minutes
Country France
Language French

Carnival in Flanders is a 1935 French historical romantic comedy film directed by Jacques Feyder. Its original French title is La Kermesse héroïque and it is widely known under that name. A German-language version of the film was made simultaneously and was released under the title Die klugen Frauen.

Plot[edit]

In 1616, when Flanders is under Spanish occupation, the town of Boom, in the midst of preparations for its carnival, learns that a Spanish duke with his army is on the way to spend the night there.

Fearing that this will inevitably result in rape and pillage, the mayor — supported by his town council — has the idea of pretending to be newly dead, in order to avoid receiving the soldiers. But his redoubtable wife Cornelia despises this strategem and organises the other women to prepare hospitality and to adapt their carnival entertainments for the Spaniards (who insist on entering the town anyway).

Such is the warmth of the women’s welcome that not only do the Spaniards refrain from misbehaviour, but on their departure the Duke announces a year’s remission of taxes for the town.

Cornelia allows her husband to take the credit for their good fortune, but she has in the meantime thwarted his plans for their daughter to marry the town butcher instead of the young painter Brueghel whom she loves.

Cast[edit]

Background and production[edit]

Carnival in Flanders / La Kermesse héroïque was made by Jacques Feyder immediately after his dark psychological drama Pension Mimosas, and he said that he wanted to relax by making a farce, far removed from the present day. He turned to a short story written at his suggestion ten years earlier by Charles Spaak, set in 17th century Flanders when it was under Spanish occupation. For the visual style of the film, Feyder wanted to pay tribute to the old masters of his native country — Brueghel, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hoogh — and an elaborate creation of a Flemish town was undertaken (in suburban Paris) by the designer Lazare Meerson. Sumptuous costumes were provided by Georges K. Benda.[1] The strong cast included Feyder’s wife Françoise Rosay and Louis Jouvet.

The film was produced by the French subsidiary of the German firm Tobis, and it was made in two versions, French and German, with alternative casts (apart from Françoise Rosay who appeared in both).

Reception[edit]

On the strength of its richly detailed tableaux and the confident manner in which Feyder animated his historical farce, the film enjoyed considerable success in France and elsewhere in the world. The film historian Raymond Chirat pointed to the combination of the admirable sets, the splendid costumes, the biting irony of the story, and the quality of the acting which earned the film a cascade of awards, the admiration of the critics, and the support of the public.[2] Georges Sadoul referred to “this important work, of exceptional beauty”.[3] Feyder won the Best Director Award at the Venice Film Festival in 1936.

However, even on its first appearance in 1935 this tale of occupation and cheerful collaboration also caused uneasiness, and the screenwriter Henri Jeanson deplored the “Nazi inspiration” of the film. It was indeed enthusiastically praised in Germany, and its première in Berlin (15 January 1936) took place in the presence of Joseph Goebbels. (Yet, a few days after the outbreak of war in 1939, the film was banned in Germany and the occupied countries of Europe, and Jacques Feyder and Françoise Rosay subsequently sought refuge in Switzerland.)[4]

It was in Belgium that the film caused greatest controversy, perhaps for the unflattering portrayal of Flemish leaders in the 17th century, or in suspicion of covert references to the German occupation of Belgian territory during the First World War. At any rate, the release of the film led to brawls in cinemas in Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges.[5]

Even two decades later (1955), its enduring reputation irked François Truffaut who wrote, in a broadside against so-called ‘successful’ films: “In this regard, the most hateful film is unarguably La Kermesse héroïque because everything in it is incomplete, its boldness is attenuated; it is reasonable, measured, its doors are half-open, the paths are sketched and only sketched; everything in it is pleasant and perfect.”[6]

Nevertheless, this remains probably the most popular and widely known of Jacques Feyder’s films.

Awards[edit]

Influences[edit]

The film was the basis for an American musical, called Carnival in Flanders, which was produced in 1953.

Further reading[edit]

  • L'Avant-scène: cinéma, 26: La Kermesse héroïque. (Paris: Avant-Scène, 1963). [The film script].

References[edit]

  1. ^ Georges Sadoul. Dictionnaire des films (Paris: Seuil, 1983), pp.164–165.
  2. ^ Raymond Chirat. Le cinéma français des années 30 (Renan: 5 Continents, 1983), p.34.
  3. ^ Georges Sadoul. Le cinéma français (Paris: Flammarion, 1962), p.74.
  4. ^ Georges Sadoul. Le cinéma français (Paris: Flammarion, 1962), p.75.
  5. ^ Jean-Pierre Jeancolas. 15 ans d’années trente (Paris: Stock, 1983), pp.176–177.
  6. ^ François Truffaut. The films in my life; translated by Leonard Mayhew (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), p.35.

External links[edit]