Le Signe du Lion
|The Sign of Leo|
|Directed by||Éric Rohmer|
|Produced by||Claude Chabrol|
|Written by||Éric Rohmer (scenario)
Paul Gégauff (dialogue)
Jean Le Poulain
|Music by||Louis Saguer|
|Edited by||Anne-Marie Cotret
Le Signe du lion (The Sign of Leo) is a black and white French drama film directed by Éric Rohmer, which was filmed on location in Paris in the summer of 1959 but not released until May 1962. His first full-length work, it is not however one of his Six Moral Tales. Along with Le Beau Serge by Claude Chabrol, who produced The Sign of Leo, it counts as one of the first films of the French New Wave.
The title refers to the Zodiac sign of Leo, under which the protagonist says he was born, and much of the plot revolves around notions of luck and fate. The penniless Pierre believes he has inherited a fortune but, when told it went to a cousin, sinks into indigence and despair. Then he is found by a friend who says the cousin has died and Pierre has really inherited the fortune.
In early summer in Paris, the would-be composer Pierre learns that his rich aunt has died. Expecting a substantial legacy, he borrows a large sum from his closest friend, the journalist Jean-François, and throws a celebration party for everybody he knows. There, as well as playing his just-completed violin sonata, he gets notice that he is to be evicted from his apartment. But, as he explains to his friends, he is always lucky because he is a Leo.
A few weeks later, Jean-François tells friends he can't find Pierre, who has been moving from one cheap hotel to another. Then he hears that the aunt's wealth was all left to a cousin but, still unable to contact Pierre, has to take an assignment overseas. By August, all the rest of Pierre's friends have left town for their holidays and he is selling his possessions to eat.
Evicted from his last hotel, he has to live rough. Hearing that a smuggler is looking for couriers, he walks a long way through the heat, only to find that even the crooks are on vacation. He ruins his trousers by spilling tinned sardines on them, his shoes are disintegrating and, when he steals some food, he is caught and beaten. Homeless, hungry, unshaven and dirty, he has reached bottom. In the end, he survives by help from another down-and-out called Toto, who begs money from tourists as a street entertainer.
On returning to Paris, Jean-François tries to find his friend, going from hotel to hotel. At one he is given a letter sent to Pierre by a lawyer, which says that the cousin has died in an accident and Pierre is now the heir to his aunt's wealth. Unable to contact Pierre, Jean-François tells the story to the press, who print the story of the tramp who has inherited a fortune. One evening, outside a café where Jean-François is sitting, Pierre starts playing his sonata on a borrowed violin. Recognising the music, Jean-François is able to give his friend the news that will change his life. Abandoning Toto, who saved his life, Pierre invites all his old friends to a celebration party.
It is shot in a wider 1.66 aspect ratio, unlike the 1.37 Academy ratio of almost all Rohmer's other films, and has an intermittent musical score, which is rare in his œuvre. Again, though he normally wrote his pictures, in this case he is only credited with the story and the often barrack-room dialogue is by Paul Gégauff. Unlike almost all his work, the plot revolves around three men, with the many women that are shown being incidental and virtually interchangeable. A Nouvelle Vague characteristic was to include cameos for fellow directors and favourite actors, and in this film one can spot Jean-Luc Godard, Stéphane Audran, Marie Dubois and Macha Méril.
Reception and influence
Though praised by other members of the Nouvelle Vague, including Jean-Luc Godard, who put it on his top ten for 1962, it was slow to reach the English-speaking world, not being screened until 1966 in the UK and 1970 in the United States.
A commentator noted how "the film is littered with painful moments" and that "with its depiction of one man's long physical and spiritual decline, Le Signe Du Lion recalls the great naturalist novels of Émile Zola as well as the works of American realists such as Theodore Dreiser. It marks Rohmer out as one of the most literary of New Wave directors - always devoting particular attention to his characters' complex emotions and inner thoughts."
Another critic wrote that the film is "also a precise, poetic documentary on Paris, with the city turning into a stone prison that gradually crushes resistance until the musician suffers total moral and physical disintegration."
- IMDB Technical Specs: Signe du Lion
- Ciné-Ressources: Le Signe du lion. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- Time Out, retrieved 10 February 2018
- kamera.co.uk: Signe du Lion Archived 16 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- DVD Times - Eric Rohmer: The Early Works
- Jean-Luc Godard's Top Ten Lists, 1956 - 1965)
- IMDB Movie Connections:Der Stadtstreicher