Sunday, July 20, 2014

Les Misérables I-III (1934)

Kurjat / Samhällets olycksbarn. FR 1934. PC: Pathé-Natan. Dist: Pathé Consortium Cinéma. P: Émile Natan. D: Raymond Bernard. Ass. D: Lucien Grunberg. SC: Raymond Bernard, André Lang - based on the novel (1865) by Victor Hugo - dialogues: André Lang. DP: Jules Krüger - cameraman: Paul Portier - assistant opérateurs: Jean Bourgoin, Pierre Bachelet. AD: Jean Perrier - ass. déc: Lucien Carré. Cost: Paul Colin. Makeup: Vladimir Tourjansky. M: Arthur Honegger. M dir: Maurice Jaubert. S: Antoine Archimbaud, Robert Sauvion - RCA. ED: Charlotte Guilbert.
    C: Harry Baur (Jean Valjean / Champmathieu / M. Madeleine / Fauchelevent), Charles Vanel (Javert), Florelle (Fantine), Thénardier (Charles Dullin), Marguerite Moreno (La Thénardier), Henry Krauss (Mgr Myriel), Gaby Triquet (Cosette, enfant), Josseline Gaël (Cosette, jeune fille), Orane Demazis (Éponine), Max Dearly (Gillenormand), Jean Servais (Marius), Émile Genevois (Gavroche).
    Tournage: 8.12.1933 - September 1933. Studio: Pathé-Joinville. Extérieurs: Côte d'Azur (Biot-Antibes). Première de gala: 3.2.1934. Original release in three parts.
    Helsinki premiere: 8.9.1935 Kino-Palatsi, released by Suomi-Filmi in two parts: I: Jean Valjean (95 min) and II: Cosette (106 min).
    Complete version restored by Pathé in 4K in 2012. Premier film: Une tempête sous un crâne [A storm under the skull] (111 min), Deuxième film: Les Thénardier (82 min), Troisième film: Liberté, liberté chérie (84 min)
    4-dvd box set with a 52-page booklet and a bonus disc with supplements. Introduction and sleeve notes by Lenny Borger. Subtitles in French and English. France: Pathé, 2012.
    Viewed with French subtitles on a laptop at home, 20 July 2014.

Profoundly impressed by Les Croix de bois, my highlight of this year's Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, we discussed it in extenso with Lenny Borger who let me read his original article on the movie in Cinématographe, no. 91, July 1983, still valid and to the point. While we were enthusing over the director Raymond Bernard, Lenny gave me a dvd copy of the restored full-length Les Misérables, Bernard's adaptation which he directed soon after Les Croix de bois.

During the silent years Bernard had shown his talent in the fields of history and legend (Le Miracle des loups, Le Joueur d'échecs).

Les Croix de bois was a turn to hard realism, always with a sense of the spirit of history.

Such a spirit is also a driving force in Bernard's version of Les Misérables. There is a sense of a great pleasure in telling again the grand story well-known to the majority of the audience. The delights come from the interpretations of the actors and the new choices of settings and locations. For the first time on screen one could hear the famous dialogue in French.

Miraculously, Les Misérables was filmed three times in multi-part in extenso versions in the early decades of the 20th century in France, and always well. Albert Capellani's version (1912), in four parts, starring Henry Krauss, was stark and moving in the tableau style of early cinema. Henri Fescourt's interpretation (1925), also in four parts, starred Gabriel Gabrio, excelled in a fascinating feeling for the milieux; they still managed to find authentic locations which looked like they did a hundred years ago.

Bernard's task was to transfer the story to the more realistic medium of sound film. The characters are still heavily stylized, but the actors bring a lot of nuance to their performances. Bernard managed to find a good balance between a sense of history and a sense of myth. His approach is affectionate to the fairy-tale and mythical dimension of the grand tale.

Harry Baur incarnates the via dolorosa of the hulking Jean Valjean with conviction. Charles Vanel is perfect as Javert, a disciple of Fouché, finally self-destructing by his merciless duty principle. It is a beautiful touch to cast Henry Krauss, Capellani's Valjean, now as Monseigneur Myriel. We believe in him when he saves Valjean's soul by giving him his chandeliers. As we believe in Valjean when he saves Javert's life, displaying a grandeur of spirit unfathomable to the policeman, and shattering him to the core. A further beautiful and meaningful intertextual touch is that Gabriel Gabrio, Fescourt's Valjean, co-starred in Les Croix de bois. The Valjean incarnators acquire varying functions as emblems of the suffering and fighting France.

In female roles, Josseline Gaël is fine as Cosette, and Florelle even better as her mother Fantine, but the most memorable performance is that of Orane Demazis as Éponine, always neglected, but viewed with great compassion by Bernard.

Memorable also: Émile Genevois as Gavroche. There is special gripping touch in the revolutionary sequences.

Thanks to this dvd set I saw this version of Les Misérables in its full length for the first time. The reconstruction may be even slightly longer than the original three-part release version. My impression is that there is little difference storywise, but scenes are longer, and there is much more detail and nuance in the performances. There is a more leisurely breath in this version.

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