Port of Shadows

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Port of Shadows
Lequaidesbrumesnew.jpg
original poster
Directed by Marcel Carné
Produced by Gregor Rabinovitch
Written by Jacques Prévert (scenario and dialogue)
Pierre Mac Orlan (novel)
Starring Jean Gabin
Michel Simon
Michèle Morgan
Pierre Brasseur
Music by Maurice Jaubert
Cinematography Eugen Schüfftan
Edited by René Le Hénaff
Production
  company
Franco London Films[1]
Distributed by Osso Films (France)
Film Alliance of the United States Inc. (US)
Release date(s) 18 May 1938 (France)
October 29, 1939 (USA)
Running time 91 min
Country France
Language French

Port of Shadows (French: Le Quai des brumes) is a 1938 French film directed by Marcel Carné. It stars Jean Gabin, Michel Simon and Michèle Morgan. The screenplay was written by Jacques Prévert based on a novel by Pierre Mac Orlan.[2] The music score was by Maurice Jaubert. It is a notable example of the poetic realism genre. The film was the 1939 winner of France's top cinematic prize, the Prix Louis-Delluc.

A scene from the film is seen projected in the 2007 Oscar-nominated dramatisation of Ian McEwan's wartime tragic drama Atonement.

According to Charles O'Brien, the film would be one of the first to be called "film noir" by critics (1939, France).[3][4]

Plot[edit]

On a foggy night, Jean (Jean Gabin), an army deserter, catches a ride to the port city of Le Havre. Hoping to start over, Jean finds himself in a lonely bar at the far edge of town. But, while getting a good meal and civilian clothes, Jean meets Nelly (Michèle Morgan), a 17 year-old who has run away from her godfather, Zabel, with whom she lives. Jean and Nelly spend time together over the following days, but they are often interrupted by Zabel who is also in love with her, and Lucien, a gangster who is looking for Nelly's ex-boyfriend, Maurice, who has recently gone missing. When Nelly finds out that her godfather killed Maurice out of jealousy, she uses the information to blackmail him and prevent him from telling the police that Jean is a deserter. While the two are in love, Jean plans to leave on a ship for Venezuela. At the last minute Jean leaves the ship to say goodbye to Nelly; he saves her from the hands of Zabel, whom he kills, but when they go out on to the street he is shot in the back by Lucien and dies in her arms.

Cast[edit]

Style[edit]

The film is in the style that Carné was most associated with, poetic realism. Luc Sante writes that "Port of Shadows possesses nearly all the qualities that were once synonymous with the idea of French cinema. Gabin—eating sausage with a knife or talking around a cigarette butt parked in the corner of his mouth or administering a backhanded slap to Brasseur’s kisser—is the quintessential French tough guy, as iconic a figure as Bogart playing Sam Spade. Michèle Morgan, ethereal and preoccupied, may pale a bit in comparison to some of her sisters in Parisian movies of the time (Arletty, for example), but she comes to life in bed, in a scene you can’t imagine occurring in an American movie before 1963 or so. The hazy lights, the wet cobblestones, the prehensile poplars lining the road out of town, the philosophical gravity of peripheral characters, the idea that nothing in life is more important than passion—such things defined a national cinema that might have been dwarfed by Hollywood in terms of reach and profit but stood every inch as tall as regards grace and beauty and power."[5] Carné uses a ship-in-a-bottle and Nelly's translucent raincoat as metaphors for the sense of entrapment and ephemerality. Michèle Morgan's character falls in line with Carné's theme of androgynous women (that is further emphasized in Les Visiteurs du Soir, 1942). Throughout the film Nelly wears a beret and a trenchcoat, and walks with her head bent and hands in her pockets, presenting a tomboyish variant of Gabin's uniform and gait.[6]

Reception[edit]

Frank S. Nugent called the film "one of the most engrossing and provocative films of the season"; according to him, "it's a thorough-going study in blacks and grays, without a free laugh in it; but it is also a remarkably beautiful motion picture from the purely pictorial standpoint and a strangely haunting drama. As a steady diet, of course, it would give us the willies; for a change it's as tonic as a raw winter's day."[7] At the time of its release, the film was widely criticized for being too negative about the State and moral character of the French, and some even blamed Carné and the film for the French losing the war to Germany.

55 years after its premiere, Luc Sante, writing about the film for its DVD release by Criterion Collection, called the film a "definitive example of the style known as “poetic realism.” The ragged outlines, the lowdown settings, the romantic fatalism of the protagonists, the movement of the story first upward toward a single moment of happiness and then down to inexorable doom—the hallmarks of the style had germinated in some form or other through the decade, but in Marcel Carné's third feature they came together as archetypes."[8]

Director Carl Dreyer included the film in his list of top ten films.[9]

Home media[edit]

Prior to July 2004,[8] Criterion Collection gave the film a "bare-bones" release, with a booklet and limited on-screen special features; according to James Steffen of Turner Classic Movies, the DVD's "high-definition transfer does justice to Carné, Schufftan and Trauner's richly detailed vision", though there are issues because of the "highly variable" quality of the 35 mm film used: "Within the same scene some shots can be startlingly clear, while others are very grainy and have much weaker contrast and detail. On the balance, it still looks extremely good for a film of this vintage." Steffen also noted the "mono sound is clear and without too much distortion. The characters use lots of colorful slang whose flavor is difficult to translate into English, but the subtitles do an admirable job."[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Port of Shadows at AllMovie
  2. ^ "Le Quai des brumes/Port of Shadows". filmsdefrance.com. Retrieved 2008-12-26. 
  3. ^ http://www.williamahearn.com/streetsparis.html
  4. ^ http://www.carleton.ca/filmstudies/people/obrien-charles/
  5. ^ Sante, Luc. "Port of Shadows". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 10 April 2012. 
  6. ^ Turk, Edward Baron (1989). Marcel Carné and the Golden Age of French Cinema. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 127–128. 
  7. ^ Frank S. Nugent (October 30, 1939). "Port of Shadows, a Somber French Film, at the New Central". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  8. ^ a b Luc Sante (July 19, 2004). "Port of Shadows". Essay. Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  9. ^ "Recommendations: Directors' Favorite Films". listology.com[self-published source?]. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  10. ^ James Steffen. "Le Quai des Brumes". Home Video Review. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 

External links[edit]