Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Petite Simone / [Little Simone] (2014 preservation EYE / Haghefilm)

Julien Clément? (FR 1918), cast: Julien Clément (Jean Balincourt), Simone Genevois (Simone), ? (Suzanna), ? (Yvonne Fougères), prod: Jycé?, dist: Ciné-Location Éclipse?, 35 mm, 772 m, 37′ (18 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet process); titles: NLD., source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Van Rossum Collection), Preserved from nitrate in 2014 at Haghefilm.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Grande Guerra 100.
    Grand piano: Neil Brand.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 4 Oct 2017

Jay Weissberg (GCM 2017): "Petite Simone could be part of the Desmet “For a Better Vision” programme just as easily as “The Effects of War,” since it’s the story of a soldier who returns home after being blinded in battle. In his case, the cause was a bomb, but for many others, it was gas that left them either temporarily or permanently blinded. The problem was already serious enough in 1915 for special hospitals to be set up in London and Florence, among other places; that same year in France, André Dreux published Nos soldats aveugles, a treatise on the physical and psychological treatment of blinded soldiers. Representations of blind soldiers became ubiquitous throughout the period, even before John Singer Sargent’s 1919 masterpiece Gassed; less difficult to digest than images of mutilated bodies yet still potent in their ability to generate compassion, they also became ripe with metaphor, conveying the notion of young men being blindly led to the slaughter."

"In the film, shot in Nice, wealthy Jean Balincourt (Julien Clément) is engaged to Yvonne Fougères, though judging by the fright she takes when looking out on a promontory over the Mediterranean, it’s clear she has a weak character. Just before Jean joins his regiment, Suzanna, a young widow, and her five-year-old daughter Simone (Simone Genevois, overly precious for modern viewers) arrive at his father’s villa with a letter of introduction and a request for employment. She’s hired as a housekeeper and Jean goes off to war, but returns home blind. Yvonne’s father writes a letter saying it’s best the couple not marry, whereupon a despairing Jean heads to the cliffs to kill himself (statistics for soldier suicides are impossible to accurately compile, but the numbers had to have been legion). Little Simone intervenes, and Suzanna’s adoration ensures that Jean will find love, notwithstanding his handicap."

"In the 1 July 1918 issue of Le Film, the distribution company Ciné-Location Éclipse placed a full-page advertisement announcing the first film of Simone Genevois (1912-1995). In truth she’d been acting on screen since at least the year before, but it’s likely Éclipse was heralding a series with “la petite,” of which Petite Simone is probably the first, followed by La Tisane, released at the end of July, and Le Rêve de Simone, in cinemas in early September. These latter two titles were produced by Jycé, a company we know nothing about, but Julien Clément is said to have directed and performed in La Tisane, which suggests he may also have acted in both capacities here. Aside from film work and an association with the Odéon theatre in Paris, Clément was the author in 1916 of a 32-page booklet, Poèmes de Guerre, consisting of verses he wrote and read to hospitalized soldiers.
" Jay Weissberg

AA: So comprehensively discussed by Jay Weissberg above that there is little to add. The presence of the little child (Simone Genevois) brings joy to the family after Jean (Julien Clément) has been blinded on the battlefield. In fact Simone becomes the center of attention with her adventures with an escaped rabbit. Simone also becomes the walking companion of the depressed Jean, and (like the little son in The Crowd) she draws the desperate man from the point of suicide. "Life has no meaning for me anymore". "In the dark night the child was the sunshine". This is the earliest film I have seen with Simone Genevois whom I know from some of the greatest French classics such as La Maison de mystère and Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, and most of all from her leading role in La merveilleuse vie de Jeanne d'Arc, fille de Lorraine, shot simultaneously with Carl Th. Dreyer's movie, in a completely different approach. Good visual quality in a tinted and toned print.

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