Time Regained

Remembering Julien Duvivier, a casualty of auteurism
by Michael Atkinson   posted May 4, 2009

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But Michael, Duvivier was not a 'victim of auteurism.' J.D. Copp's useful website "My Gleanings" (http://jdcopp.blogspot.com), dedicated to a close reading of the early issues of Cahiers, quotes many positive mentions of Duvivier including this one, from the notorious "Situation of French Cinema" issue: Some tell you that today’s Duvivier is not worthy of yesterday’s Duvivier and rate L’Affaire Maurizius by wailing for Pépé le Moko. One could respond by burning Un carnet de bal in the name of Sous le ciel de Paris. In fact, Duvivier’s career is like a temperature chart with spiked highs and vertiginous slumps that, when led back to a happy medium witnesses an enviable warmth. If it it is rare that his films make rapt, it is rarer that his films make bored. His taste for a certain style of the baroque, culminating with La Fête à Henriette make him the champion of the unexpected, often guileful, sometimes aggravating. Constructed in stucco rather than cut in marble, his structures are not those that last but perishables are not the lest of foodstuffs. That seems like a reasoned assessment to me, given the Duvivier films that I've seen. Here's Truffaut on Duvivier, from "The Films In My Life": “When I met Julien Duvivier a little while before his death, and after I had shot my first film, I tried to get him to admit - he was always complaining - that he had had a fine career, varied and full, and that all things considered he had achieved great success and ought to be contented. ‘Sure, I would feel happy ...if there hadn’t been any reviews.’” (page12) The suggestion here is that the auteurists were defending Duvivier against his critics in the mainstream press. Copp continues with a summary of reviews drawn from Eric Bonnefille's biography of Duvivier, "Julien Duvivier: Le mal aimant du cinema francais," which show the Cahier critics frequently defending Duvivier against the rejection of his films in the popular press. Truffaut, again, on "Pot-bouille": 'the opposite of an academic film, a work of irony, baroque, unbridled and mostly unexpected, a ferocious and almost involuntary parody of Gervaise a caricature of Zola, but one faithful and life-like, very clear."
Dave Kehr   posted 05.05.09

And more praise of Duvivier, if largely by his technicians, can be found here: http://www.lips.org/bio_Duvivier.asp. Including Renoir's "If I were an architect and I had to build a monument to the cinema, I would place a statue of Duvivier above the entrance." The fuller text of Renoir's obituary, along with Claude Chabrol's short discussion of Duvivier as his favorite classic French auteur (with Renoir), is here: http://www.filmforum.org/archivedfilms/duvivier.html.
David Phelps   posted 05.05.09

"while perpetually exalted pioneers like Eisenstein and Griffith are all but unwatchable for very much besides historical interest." While the most modern directors--Desplechin, Straub, Brakhage--all count these guys as formative influences. Does Griffith need to be bad for Duvivier to be good? "In Macmillan’s International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, British critic Dudley Andrew starts out his dance on Duvivier’s grave by saying, "No one speaks of Julien Duvivier without apologizing."" I don't know what American critic Dudley Andrew says here, but in his Mists of Regret, he devotes a section (about 10 pages) to discussing Duvivier's style, and repeatedly praises him as about the most capable of 30s French directors. Not at all a "unanimous critical dismissal"--the bigger problem, as usual, is unanimous critical ignorance. These aren't easy films to find to dismiss. Thanks for the rest of this.
David Phelps   posted 05.05.09


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Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive
Lucas Gridoux and Jean Gabin in Pépé le Moko
Photo Gallery: Time Regained


May 1-25, 2009 Julien Duvivier


Michael Atkinson is the author/editor of six books, including Ghosts in the Machine: Speculating on the Dark Heart of Pop Cinema (Limelight Eds., 2000), Flickipedia (Chicago Review Press, 2007), Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood (SUNY Press, 2008), and the novels from St. Martin's Press Hemingway Deadlights and Hemingway Cutthroat.

More articles by Michael Atkinson
Author's Website: Zero for Conduct