Sunday, June 24, 2012

David Golder

FR 1931. D: Julien Duvivier. Italian title: La beffa della vita. Based on the novel by Irène Némirovsky. SC: Julien Duvivier. DP: Georges Périnal, Armand Thirard. AD: Lazare Meerson. M: Walter Goehr. S: Hermann Storr. C: Harry Baur (David Golder), Paule Andral (Gloria), Jackie Monnier (Joyce), Jean Bradin (principe Alec), Gaston Jacquet (Graf Hoyos), Jean Coquelin (Fischel), Camille Bert (Tübingen), Jacques Grétillat (Marcus), Paul Franceschi (Soifer), Léon Arvel (un medico), Charles Dorat (un giovane emigrante), Nicole Yoghi (un infermiere). PC: Les Films Marcel Vandal et Charles Delac. Premiere: 6 marzo 1931.  35 mm. 86’. B&w. Versione francese / French version. From: Tamasa Distribution. Sunday 24 July 2012, Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) (After the Crash). E-subtitles in Italian / English. Introduced by Matteo Codignola, presented by Gian Luca Farinelli.

Peter von Bagh: “Julien Duvivier’s first sound film had a remarkable literary inspiration: the first novel, an immediate success, by Irène Némirovsky, a banker’s daughter who emigrated from Ukraine to France, a fatal move because she was deported to Auschwitz. Duvivier manages to objectify a sense of deep, closely observed personal truth in an admirable way: critics at the time estimated that David Golder added a Balzacian dimension to Duvivier’s canvas.

“His silent output was already impressive; the creative use of sound seemed almost – this is not an overstatement – to double his mastery. The ice-cold aroma of financial crisis dwells in every image, and especially in the face of Golder, played by the massive Harry Baur, strong and sober, “without a hint of falseness”. Golder is brutally frank about himself: “If I go on as a businessman, I’m a corpse”. He is one already. Only a couple of dazzling short sequences – equal to images in L’Herbier’s L’Argent – are directly about the crisis, but every shot, however distant the subject, is informed by a crisis that touches them all. Golder’s chilly absence in the face of a friend’s financial catastrophe (and then witnessing the man’s suicide in front of his house) indicates the tragedy of his own life: an alienated, loveless marriage. His compensation is a daughter he loves dearly until the grim revelation that the girl is not his own. One illusion less – and Duvivier is always great about illusions, creating romantic and luxurious images as an ironic counterpoint to what really happens, with the charged sense that properties have been stolen. David Golder is a fascinating anticipation of what would later become the defining characteristics of Duvivier’s greatness as an objective observer, or in the words of Paul Vecchiali: “The cruelty of this universe is rendered with a complete absence of indulgence. And the grandeur of the David Golder treatment is so evident that it renders the film poetic. An unalterable masterpiece”. Pierre Leprohon adds: “Melodramatic, some say, the film measured up to its performer, solid, powerful, not refusing any effect, but sometimes attaining a certain grandeur, notably after signing the contract with the Soviets and Golder’s death”. Death – the great leveler – as anonymous as his money – catches the almighty Golder, destined to die on an ocean-liner after a business trip to Soviet Russia, seemingly eager to return to the ‘normal’ capitalist ways that his world represents so acidly.” Peter von Bagh

AA: A tragedy of capitalist realism. David Golder has toiled for 40 years to build a financial empire but when his heart starts to fail he travels to Biarritz to meet his estranged wife. When David sees what's going on he states: "While I'm alive you can carry on. When I'm dead you get nothing". Everything belongs to his beloved daughter Joyce, but the wife laughs mockingly: "Ta fille? Tu es sûr?" It seems that the father is her spineless lover, Count Hoyos. Joyce plays the dear daughter, but she is only interested in dad's money: "une Bugatti"! There is a symbolic gambling sequence, a game of baccarat at the casino on the Riviera. Golder loses a million and wins a million and 100.000. Golder has lost everything 20 times but always jumped on his feet again.

Having experienced all this David has a massive heart attack, and when he is on his feet again he decides to give up his business and sell his house on the Riviera. "I've got all the time in the world". There is panic at the stock exchange. People believe it's an ingenious manoeuver of Golder's. The French-Canadian bank crashes. Meeting the German financial prince Tubingen Golder confesses that 40 years in the business have killed him. "Je suis seul".

The doctors' orders: give up business. Aware of this, Golder embarks on his last business trip, to the Soviet Union, where he strikes a huge deal on Caucasian oil. Three weeks of tough bargaining are lethal. The contract is signed, and David boards an ocean liner in Odessa, feeling his days are numbered as the ship sails in the fog emitting foghorn signals and passengers chanting in Hebrew. A poor boy who speaks Yiddish helps him to his cabin to die.

Unhampered by its literary origins the film is very mobile and visual, with an intriguing use of the moving camera, and with a rich flexibility of field sizes. There is a montage in the beginning that anticipates Citizen Kane. The word "Fin" is seen as a reflection in the water. The quality of the cinematography of Georges Périnal and Armand Thirard is high. The music by Walter Goehr, starting before the image, is impressive.

There is a Jewish theme in the story. Madame Golder still sees David as "the little Jew with a sack on his shoulder". Golder has found successs the hard way. "Remember the ghetto". The poor boy in the final cabin is like David 40 years ago. They both hail from Cheimnitz, Poland. "You toil for years and years, and then you die alone like a dog". David gives the boy his wallet and asks him to keep everything he has with him and follow his orders with his attorney in Paris.

A great tragic performance by Harry Baur.

The print is bright and clean.

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