Saturday, October 05, 2019

Le petit café / The Little Café (1919)

Max Linder in Le petit café (FR 1919) by Raymond Bernard. Photo: Steve Massa Collection.

Lilla kaféet / Il caffé Philibert
FR 1919
regia/dir, mont/ed: Raymond Bernard. scen, adapt: Raymond Bernard, Henri Diamant-Berger, sulla pièce di/based on the play by Tristan Bernard (1912). photog: Marc Bujard, ? Dugord. cast: Max Linder (Albert Loriflan), Henri Debain (lo sguattero/the dishwasher), Jean Joffre (Philibert), Wanda Lyon (Yvonne Philibert, sua figlia/his daughter), Flavienne Mérindol (Edwige), Andrée Barelly (Bérangère d’Aquitaine), Armand Bernard (Bouzin), Francis Halma (Bigredon), Major Heitner (il pianista tzigano/gypsy pianist). prod: Films Diamant-Berger. dist: Pathé-Consortium-Cinéma. anteprima esercenti/trade screening: 15.11.1919 (Ciné Max-Linder, Paris). uscita/rel: 19.12.1919 (Omnia Pathé, Paris). copia/copy: 35 mm, 1266 m., 55′ (20 fps); did./titles: FRA. fonte/source: Národni filmový archiv, Praha.
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
European Slapstick – Prog. 1: Later Linder / Il tardo Linder.
Grand piano: Philip Carli.
Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 5 Oct 2019.

Lisa Stein Haven (GCM): "Max Linder returned from the United States in the summer of 1917, in a state of defeat and dissatisfaction due to the terms of his Essanay contract and the relative lack of success his Essanay films had enjoyed. To attempt to reinvigorate his French film career, he chose an adaptation of a popular stage play written in 1912 by Tristan Bernard, Le Petit Café. Bernard’s son Raymond would direct, and Linder’s friend Henri Diamant-Berger would produce."

"Although this would be the first screen version of Bernard’s play, its plot surely may have inspired Mack Sennett’s 1915 film Tillie’s Punctured Romance: both films feature a mountain-climbing wealthy patriarch who falls to his death and “missing” heirs who learn of their legacy while working waiting on tables."

"Linder plays the missing heir, Albert Loriflan, who finds a job at the Café Philibert. He ignores the beauty and charm of Philibert’s daughter Yvonne (played by American actress Wanda Lyon), and dalliances both old and new haunt Albert at his place of business. A one-night stand with Edwige the violinist (energetically played by Flavienne Mérindol) results in several humorous encounters, culminating in the rejected Edwige presenting her many children to Albert in hopes of gaining his sympathy and “love.” When Albert finally receives his inheritance, after his father’s lawyer and Philibert join together in an attempt to pinch it from him, the lowly waiter is transformed into a well-dressed man-about-town in his off-hours. This quickly results in a romance with well-to-do Bérangère d’Aquitaine, in scenes shot at the Pavillon in the Bois de Boulogne. She later discovers Albert sweeping up at the café, confronts him, and leaves him in disgust. Albert and Yvonne discover each other at last, and he realizes that he doesn’t need money to be a rich man after all."

"Perhaps Linder waited to agree to this story until a good five years after Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret (Keystone, 1914) in order not to repeat, gag for gag, Chaplin’s particular success with the story of a waiter who masquerades as a wealthy gentleman in order to woo women above his class. Linder had met Chaplin in Hollywood in 1917, and the two rivals formed a mutual admiration society. If the audience makes the correlations to Caught in a Cabaret or Tillie’s Punctured Romance, Linder clearly intends the film to be an homage, or at least a nod, to his young counterpart and competitor: the first scene is an out-of-context Linder imitation of Chaplin’s Little Tramp — mugging at the camera in what might be a personal message to Charlie himself."

"Bernard makes frequent use of the iris-out in the film, a common practice, but perhaps more notable is his use of Max Linder “narrating” in the same frame with the printed titles, as well as sometimes “narrating” at the bottom of the frame with actors and action taking place at the top. And, several years before Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris (1923) and the American works of Ernst Lubitsch, Bernard effectively communicates one of Albert’s overnight adventures (with Edwige) by focusing the camera on his broken umbrella — left outside her house when they arrive in the dark, and still in that same position the next morning."

"G. de LaPlane interviewed Linder for the French revue La Rampe in October 1919, shortly before the film’s premiere. Linder had this to say about the production: “I simply wanted to profit from the summer by filming in France. Diamant-Berger offered me a role I have wanted to play for many years, so I accepted. Convinced that the example must be set by the stars, I strove to realize the will of the author and director during three months of friendly collaboration. I have rarely encountered a more attractive role for an actor than that of ‘Albert’ in Le Petit Café. I am happy to have been able to bring it to the screen.”"

"Louis Delluc reviewed the film in both Paris-Midi (21.12.1919) and Le Siècle (22.12.1919), arguing that if you liked the stage version, you would like the film version. “You will laugh again,” he writes. While he commends the company itself — and Bernard the director — he has much more to say about Linder: “We will notice a real effort in the play of certain lighting and the choice of ‘natural settings’. If we don’t see everything, if we are unaware of such details worth remembering, the fault will be Max Linder’s. He is so dazzling that one wonders if it is not a comedy whose title is Max Linder, all of whose characters are named Max Linder, whose actors are all the unique and innumerable Max Linder. We have never seen him expend so much verve and energy. What fireworks! Humorist, acrobat, dancer, juggler, mime, jeune premier, what isn’t he? This is a role tailor-made for the triumph of all his brilliant gifts. Finally!”"

"The Linder film was fondly remembered for years. Maurice Chevalier proposed a remake to Paramount, who bought the screen rights and filmed it in Hollywood in 1930 in English and French versions, Playboy of Paris and Le Petit Café, both starring Chevalier and directed by Ludwig Berger. The script still worked; the French version was a smash hit in Paris." Lisa Stein Haven (GCM)

AA: There is a charming portrait shot in the opening credits of "Tristan Bernard et son Max Linder".

The print is particularly choppy in the beginning, the jump cuts almost conveying a sense of an avantgarde film. Meanwhile the visual quality of the surviving footage gives an impression of a vibrantly good cinematography.

Based on Tristan Bernard's farce, it tells about Max's juggling between three women, a violinist, a society lady and the café proprietor's daughter.

Max is an orphan who has been taken care of a wealthy alpinist who has disappeared. He has found work as a waiter at café Philibert. When the alpinist's death on a perilous mountain trek is confirmed, Max becomes an inheritor of millions. Before Max learns about it, his custodian and Philibert establish a plot of swindling Max of his fortune. But Max, although alcoholic, is as devious as they.

Le petit café is the best film of Max Linder that I remember. As we know, Charles Chaplin was deeply influenced by Linder. But at this stage Linder was deeply influenced by Chaplin. This film has affinities with Chaplin's Mutual masterpieces The Rink and The Count and earlier films such as the Keystone comedy Caught in a Cabaret. With Max, it is never a case of imitation, though.

The Chaplin inspiration was more profound than a matter of superficial copying. Chaplin may have encouraged Linder to become deeper. The despair of alcoholism, the agony of being trapped in messy relationships, the genuine sadness and pathos in the finale: they are genuine and unique for Max. Meanwhile, his physical comedy remains brilliant and fantastic. And he always retains a sense of dignity, no matter how ridiculous his predicaments are.

I like the sense of physical reality in this film.


My Facebook capsule:

At Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, the European comedy series was launched with a programme of later Linder. The idea is to explore continuities and interconnections; this show is about the Linder-Chaplin connection. Max Linder was Chaplin's great model, but by 1917 Chaplin had become an inspiration for Linder to deepen and expand his scope. In Max in a Taxi he gives his version of the "failure even in suicide" theme. In Abel Gance's Au secours! he offers an early version of the haunted house theme, soon to become popular at Universal studios; the sequence of extreme agony in the finale is particularly gripping. Linder's masterpiece is Le petit café based on a play by Tristan Bernard, directed by his son Raymond Bernard. A rich and rewarding piece where Linder's range as an actor is fully revealed.

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