Saturday, October 07, 2017

La Femme française pendant la guerre / [The French Woman During the War]

La Femme française pendant la guerre (FR 1918). Alexandre Devarennes. The frame enlargement gives an impression of the beautiful cinematography and refined toning. Photo: © ECPAD-14.18 A 975.

FR 1918, D: Alexandre Devarennes, scen: René Jeanne, photog: Alphonse Gibory, cast: Suzanne Bianchetti, prod: Service Cinématographique de l’Armée (SCA); Service Photographique et Cinématographique de l’Armée (SPCA), 35 mm, 363 m, 19’54” (Pt. 1), 314 m., 17’10” (Pt. 2) =  677 m, 37 min (16 fps), tinted; titles: FRA, source: Établissement de Communication et de Production Audiovisuelle de la Défense (ECPAD), Paris. With special thanks to Noëlle Guibert and Francine Guibert, the granddaughters of the film’s director.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Grande Guerra 100.
    Grand piano: John Sweeney.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2017.

Jay Weissberg (GCM 2017): "In 1917, politician Louis Barthou delivered a much-reported lecture at the Sorbonne, “L’Effort de la femme française pendant la guerre,” published in full by Le Monde Illustré (28 April 1917) and well worth reading, especially for the way he suggests that women’s activities since 1914 helped to counter the reputation of French women as outrageous coquettes. He also details the various ways women’s work had helped the war effort – he calculates that 375,000 women were then employed in the private sector – as well as the moral support given by mothers, wives, and sisters as their men put their lives on the line."

"Whether directly inspired by the speech or simply channeling the rhetoric of the moment, director Alexandre Devarennes (1887–1971), working in collaboration with René Jeanne, then associated with the Service Cinématographique de l’Armée, made the two-part propaganda film La Femme française pendant la guerre, released in the summer of 1918 (the title could have been lifted from that of Countess Roger de Courson’s 1916 book, which was identical). An initial fictional scene with actors, including Jeanne’s wife Suzanne Bianchetti in her screen debut, directly appeals to the emotions with its brief vignette of a mother crying as her children play around her. From there, the film shifts into actuality territory, showing women in the city and country performing jobs traditionally associated with men: train station porters, tram conductors, chimney sweeps, factory workers, farmhands, etc. The second part details ways women directly help soldiers at the front, whether by knitting clothes, working as nurses and entertainers, or caring for future generations. After comparing women of the time to heroines of the past, Devarennes shows women awarded medals and, to give it a relatively up-to-date feel, hospitalized workers injured in the 30 January 1918 aerial bombardment of Paris."

"Each part’s opening intertitles consist of split screens with women engaged in various activities: plowing a field, in a factory, holding a baby. According to the magazine Les Potins de Paris (7 November 1918), La Femme française pendant la guerre was the first film to use this type of animated intertitle and ushered in a new cinema fashion, though the claim is unsubstantiated. Alphonse Gibory, whom Devarennes credited as the film’s cameraman in a 1968 interview, worked with Pathé and Éclair until joining the Service Cinématographique during the War. He collaborated with Devarennes on three films, and after the Armistice worked for the American Red Cross, for whom he filmed the 1919 International Red Cross conference in Cannes."

"Barthou significantly underestimated the number of women workers in France. In the agricultural sector alone, 3,200,000 female workers replaced the 3,000,000 farmers called up for service. By 1918, 430,000 women were working in munitions factories, 120,000 were nurses (of whom only 30,000 took a salary), 11,000 were employed in the post office, and 5,000 on the trams. When the War ended, most were quickly laid off.
" Jay Weissberg

AA: The split screen introductions to the sections are engaging. Jay Weissberg informs us above that the crying mother in the beginning is Suzanne Bianchetti in her screen debut (later to appear in some of the greatest films including Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, Casanova, and Verdun, visions d'histoire).

Mobilization volontaire des femmes: the imagery is striking of women washing railway cars, selling newspapers, taking care of transport errands in workers' dresses, working as chauffeurs, tram drivers, and conductors, and as street cleners and in other public works. They take care of industrial size kitchens and restaurants. In winters they sand streets. They sweep chimneys. They work at textile factories. They manufacture benches from wood. They also work in heavy metal industry, building electric engines and welding in what looks like a munitions factory. Ouvrières et mamans: while working they are breast-feeding.

À la campagne there is heavy toil in the fields, harnessing horses, steering ox sleds, and carrying water.

Fraternité et tendresse: the women's contribution to the general bien-être is invaluable. They take care of supply depots. They keep up hope – espérance, eg. by slipping good luck letters to helmets. Le réconfort is also provided by the cinema and toys for children. We see a big cinema audience.

Aide et consolation. In a beautiful superimposition we see a soldier sleeping and women at work. They dress all wounds: panser toutes les blessures. And serve steaming soup. A nurse helps an invalid read the papers, and to return to the recurrent theme of blindess in this edition of Le Giornate: voir pour ceux qui ne voient plus. Et préparer l'avenir: the joy of the children they meet as teachers.

Les repatriats: rediscover l'illusion du foyer perdu.

The women are compared with Sainte Geneviève, Jeanne d'Arc, and Jeanne Hachette for their devouement and héroïsme. We even observe them as victims of bombings and invalids at hospitals. The film ends with a Sainte Geneviève Day parade.

The director Alexandre Devarennes, the screenwriter René Jeanne and the cinematographer Alphonse Gibory bring a serene and tender touch to their grave subject both in urban and pastoral settings.

Although there is a duped look the beauty of the cinematography can be appreciated. I also admired the refined sepia toning and the occasional red tinting. I guess they may have been achieved via a colour internegative. Print-wise one of my fondest memories of this year's Le Giornate.

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