Saturday, October 07, 2017

Noël de guerre / [War Christmas] (2014 restoration in 4K Gaumont Pathé Archives)

Léon Bernard (18771935). Portrait de Léon Bernard, de la Comédie Française, tableau peint par Georges A. L. Boisselier, reproduit par A. Noyer, éditeur à Paris — carte postale du salon des artistes français de 1910 à Paris. Wikipédia.

FR 1916, ?, story: Félicien Champsaur, cast: Le petit [Jean] Fleury (André), Léon Bernard (the postman), Marguerite Balza (André’s mother), Angèle Lerida (the postman’s wife), prod: Films Georges Lordier, dist: Agence Générale Cinématographique, rel: 12.1916. DCP, 15 min; titles: FRA, source: Gaumont Pathé Archives, Saint-Ouen, Paris.
    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): "By the time the Battle of Verdun finally ended in December 1916, after eleven carnage-filled months, the French army had suffered more than 350,000 casualties. That’s the background to Noël de Guerre, an extraordinarily tender film released around Christmastime that year, about André, a young boy whose father is away at the front, and whose mother is struggling to get by on the meager earnings she makes with her sewing machine. A kindly postman in mourning for the death of his own young child reads the boy’s letter to Santa, asking for some toys; deeply moved, he and his wife gather their son’s playthings and give them to André."

"Although the reconstructed intertitles make it ambiguous as to whether André’s father has been killed – we’re told he’s at the front – I’d argue that audiences at the time would have assumed he was dead, not just by his mother’s melancholy air but by the presence of her sewing machine. Already by April 1916, charities were collecting money to provide sewing machines to war widows with children, so they could earn a living. “This isn’t about charity; the machine would not be donated, but sold. However, monthly payments required of the recipients would be proportional to expected gains” (Le Figaro, 22 April 1916), thereby allowing these women a sense of dignity. Soon after the War, in mid-1919, the State itself stepped in, providing sewing machines to war widows who had at least three children younger than 16. It’s estimated the war turned 700,000 French wives into widows by the time it was over."

"The astonishing quality of the direction makes it especially frustrating that we can’t identify the filmmaker. Exteriors in Paris are shot with a true sense of realism, and interiors are lit with an eye to artistically defining people and spaces in ways that enhance the film’s emotional tenor. It’s been suggested that the producer, Georges Lordier (ca 1883–1922), was also the director, though it’s impossible to be certain. Lordier was the co-founder of the film magazine L’Echo du Cinéma (merging shortly thereafter with Le Cinéma), and in the busy year of Noël de Guerre, he was president of the Syndicat de la Presse Cinématographique as well as proprietor of the Cinéma des Folies-Dramatiques on the Boulevard Saint-Martin. Today he is best known for “Les Chansons filmées,” conceived in late 1917 as a way of promoting the French cause in allied and neutral countries via filmed enactments of popular French songs. By the time he died in January 1922, he had made over 300 such shorts.
" Jay Weissberg

AA: There is little to add to Jay Weissberg's remarks.

The narrative unfolds as a parallel montage on soirées de tristesse in two families. The little André is fretting about his toys which are in terrible shape while mother is sewing to make ends meet. "Nous sommes trop pauvre pour le moment". After the evening prayer mother kisses a locket with her husband's image while André writes a letter to cher petit Jésus.

At the Cimetière de Montparnasse a postman and his wife are at the grave of their child. At the post office André's letter is laughed at and thrown into the garbage bin. But the postman who has lost his child retrieves the letter and shows it to his wife. They decide to give to André the toys of their late son.

La Nuit de Noël: André expects to find his shoes filled with gifts but is deeply disappointed until the postman knocks at their door.

There is genuine tenderness in this short film, and a beautiful definition of light in the cinematography.

The digital restoration is glossy and polished.

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