Monday, October 05, 2009

La Vie merveilleuse de Bernadette

(The film was never released in Finland.)

FR 1929. PC: Isis Film. D: Georges Pallu; SC: Georges Pallu, collab. Father Honoré Brochet [le Sablais]); DP: Ganzli Walter; AD: André Lecointe; filmed: spring 1929 (Lourdes; Studios Saint-Laurent-du-Var, Nice); CAST: Alexandra (Bernadette Soubirous), Mémo (François Soubirous), Janine Lequesne (the Virgin), Paul Ceriani (Charles Hirt), Jane Marnier (Mme. Hirt), Janine Borelli (Antoinette Hirt), Charles Débert (Jules Langlois), Émile Matras (M. Laurence), Mathillon (Baron Massy), ? (Louise Casterot); 2180 m, 96' (20 fps)

Print: AFF/CNC. Restored by the AFF/CNC, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture’s film preservation plan. E-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 4 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "In one of the most peculiar career trajectories in French and European silent cinema, Georges Pallu (1869-1948) rose from the anonymous pre-war ranks at the Film d’Art and Pathé studios, was handpicked (with other French professionals) to help build the infrastructure of the fledgling Portuguese film industry immediately after World War I, then returned in the mid-1920s to France, where he devoted the rest of his professional life to making Catholic propaganda films, chronicling the lives of Teresa of Lisieux and Bernadette of Lourdes, among other saintly and secular icons. Today, Pallu’s reputation remains Janus-faced: for the Portuguese he is the distinguished pioneer director of 15 films made for the Invicta Film studios in Porto between 1918 and 1924, including such revered classics of the Portuguese screen as Amor de Perdição (1921).In France he remains little more than a sanctimonious hack of only footnote interest (though he does get a helpful career entry in the AFRHC’s Dictionnaire du cinéma français des années vingt).
La Vie merveilleuse de Bernadette was Pallu’s last silent religious drama, but it had the commercial misfortune of joining a crush of contending biopics with “marvellous” or “miraculous” in the title (notably Marc de Gastyne’s La Merveilleuse vie de Jeanne d’Arc and Julien Duvivier’s La Vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin, the latter pompously subtitled “The First Christian Art Film”).
Since his homecoming 4 years earlier, Pallu had been an in-house director (along with the Swiss Jean Choux) for a Nice-based production firm that specialized in Catholic inspirational dramas, the incongruously named Isis Film. Isis ran the Saint-Laurent-du-Var studios, where the young Julien Duvivier had shot his first religious drama, Credo ou La Tragédie de Lourdes, in 1923.
Like several other Isis productions, Pallu’s film was made under the auspices of a cinephile Assumptionist priest, Father Honoré Brochet, himself a pioneer of filmed “tableaux vivants” on biblical and religious themes (including a 1909 Bernadette Soubirous et les apparitions de Lourdes). The script was a bare-bones retelling of episodes in the life of the French peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous, whose visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto outside Lourdes led to the creation of the famous pilgrimage site.
As he had done with his most successful French film, La Rose effeuillée (1926), about Saint Teresa of Lisieux, Pallu framed the historical theme with a modern-day narrative: the daughter of a humble Catholic couple finds herself paralyzed after being caught in a violent thunderstorm. In despair, the parents ask the child’s godfather to go to Lourdes to investigate the possibility of a pilgrimage. He meets an old woman who personally knew Bernadette and, in a long flashback, she relates her story. Hopeful, the couple take their crippled daughter to Lourdes, where she miraculously recovers her ability to walk.
The film’s small miracle is Pallu’s direction: understated, direct, empathetic. No melodramatics or bathos. The cast is creditable. Ganzli Walter, who shot most of these devotional dramas (and, by the way, also photographed Duvivier’s 1925 Poil de Carotte), does his usual fine work. André Lecointe, a designer who was in Portugal with Pallu, summoned up a convincing replica of the Lourdes grotto in the Nice studios. We are far from the cloying “Hollywood” sincerity of Henry King’s Song of Bernadette, or even Jean Delannoy’s aesthetically senile 1989 biopic.
One last, odd footnote: Pallu directed a few non-moralizing commercial films, including a 1926 adaption of Phi-Phi, a popular French operetta(!) and a film of Georges Courteline’s comic novel Le Train de 8 h. 47 (1927), both for Isis Film. The ways of the Lord are impenetrable! – Lenny Borger -

I watched ca 45 min of this film. - A beautiful print. - I agree with Lenny Borger about the sober style of this film. I feel more merciful than he to Henry King's The Song of Bernadette with Jennifer Jones, with its strong drama of the simple faith of the common girl and the cynical power play of the churchmen.

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