|La Fin du jour. Michel Simon, Louis Jouvet. Click to enlarge the images.|
Arquillières / Alexandre Arquillière (Monsieur Lucien).
Song: "Le Temps de cerises".
Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Ritrovati e Restaurati) with English subtitles on the DCP and e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra, 30 June 2015.
Introduced by Sophie Seydoux.
Roberto Chiesi (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "Julien Duvivier knew the secret to creating explosive opening scenes where in just a few minutes he could condense the atmosphere of a world and the features and story of a character with masterly visual fluidity. La Fin du jour opens with a performance of Alexandre Dumas’ Antony in front of a half-empty audience, and the troupe is in a hurry to finish the show so they don’t miss the last train. All but Saint-Clair (Louis Jouvet), an old actor performing his swan song. He brags about an upcoming vacation but instead is about to go into a retirement home for actors at the Saint-Jean-la-Rivière abbey. It is another confined space (as is often the case in Charles Spaak’s screenplays – Grande illusion is another example) in which the story of Saint-Clair is intertwined with that of Cabrissade (Michel Simon), a failed actor used as a stand-in, Marny (Victor Francen), a showman who is laid up because of depression caused by the loss of his wife, and a lively array of carefully characterized old actors and actresses (including Gabrielle Dorziat and Sylvie). Duvivier describes old age without sugarcoating, dominated by feelings of regret, bitterness and frustration. He entrusts to the genius of Michel Simon the guise of a loser who stubbornly refuses to accept old age, taking refuge in unyielding childishness. There is also an autobiographical echo in the scene where Cabrissade is about to finally play the role of Flambeau but forgets his lines as he goes on stage. It was something that actually happened to the young Duvivier in 1916 when treading the boards at the Odéon."
"The frailty of old age is reflected in the vulnerability of being actors, living in a make-believe world, often also off stage, a fiction which Duvivier (sometimes alluding to the real identities of the performers) also shows in its aspects of deception, a game of masks that can drift into madness: the Saint-Clair of the great Jouvet, cynical seducer, confirmed narcissist (he sends himself old letters from lovers to make others believe he is still adored) and cruel manipulator, tries to provoke a young waitress to commit suicide.Made by Duvivier following his first Hollywood experience (The Great Waltz), the film was awarded the Coppa della Biennale at the 1939 Venice Film Festival, troubled by the outbreak of war. The Italian version was cut by around twenty minutes." (Roberto Chiesi)
AA: The 1930s were Julien Duvivier's anni mirabili, and La Fin de jour was his penultimate film during a decade in which he also directed David Golder, La Tête d'un homme, La Bandera, La belle équipe, Pépé le Moko, and Un carnet de bal.
Carried by the brilliant dialogue by Charles Spaak La Fin du jour is a study in illusions in the last stage of life of professonal creators of illusions, set in a retirement home for actors. Gilles Marny (Victor Francen) is known as the actor who had talent but no success. Cabrissade (Michel Simon) has been the talented understudy of a master actor - Lucien Guitry - who was never sick. Saint-Clair (Louis Jouvet) is the brilliant man of the surface, a master seducer and a dazzling performer. There are those who act the parts and those who live the parts. As a contrast to Saint-Clair's illusionary love affairs there is the happy couple who has lived together for 35 years and who now decide to marry in an official wedding. A final climactic sequence is a benefit performance of Edmond Rostand's L'Aiglon.
A memorable scene takes place during the singing of "Le Temps de cerises" where we hear a quick version of Letter from an Unknown Woman with Saint-Clair in the role of the seducer who never remembers.
As a story about ageing people there are affinities in La Fin du jour with Make Way for Tomorrow and Tokyo Story.
It is fascinating to observe such a cast, ranging from the actor of the cinema's first super-villain, Arquillères (he created Zigomar) to a young François Périer in one of his first screen roles.
The digital restoration is bright and clear.