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PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 1:28 am 
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I liked how the piano is visually linked with the planes. We see the piano up in the sky, and it is shot from such a low angle, it appears to be way up high, almost flying. Then it comes crashing down. As the girls conservatory dreams will, and as we are led to worry Therese's plane might.

It is interesting how the camera remains so grounded and stays with the characters on the ground, rather than going up with the plane or even for the most part observing the planes in the air. Mostly we just see the people on land and the planes landing and planes on the ground. This seems to reduce the importance of airplanes, universalizing the activity as a stand-in for any hobby/obsession. Piano for the daughter, planes for the parents, etc. They all have dreams, and it's interesting how these dreams cause conflict, and anxiety and pull them apart (or almost do in the case of the record-breaking flight).
Quite a nice film.

I liked Remorques with Gabin in one of his iconic sensitive tough guy roles.
Only watched half of Lumière d'été last night and found it a bit hard to stay interested.

I like Gremillon's style with its sometimes flashy, sometimes subtle camerawork. And his focus on romantic dramas, at least in this set. Hope to find more Gremillions. I'd heard his name for a long time, but hadn't seen any of his films before.

Is it just me, or from certain angles does Madeleine Renaud look like Hillary Clinton?
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 6:40 am 
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matrixschmatrix wrote:
Movielocke, I think the concern for one's children above all things is something established as a somewhat bourgeois/middle class-striving idea early on- Thérèse says something along the lines of how she and Pierre have worked all their lives to make their children comfortable, and as such can't allow anyone in the family to depart from the bourgeois values and career paths she's plotted out for them. Which feeds into her refusal to allow her daughter to become a pianist in the first place. There's a deep irony, I think, in the way that she totally departs the path of middle class normality herself, but does so in a way that still doesn't allow her to grant her daughter any real freedom.

I think, given the relationship we see, it's not fair to characterize it as Thérèse asking her daughter to make a sacrifice- we never see her understanding her daughter's dreams in the first place, nor their importance in her daughter's life. She just goes from denying her daughter's dreams out of a sense of protecting her from folly to denying them out of pure self-centeredness. The fact that she's not depicted as a monster for doing so is pretty revolutionary, in its way, but I don't think it reflects well on her at all.

And a further irony is that their conventional roles seem reversed, since it is usually the parents who end up sacrificing their dream in order to realize their child's dream in the movies, whereas here it's a kid having to sacrifice her dream in order to realize her parents' dream. It's all perfectly backwards to the usual narrative.

It's worth noting that by the time 'she's old enough' to make her own choices, she'll have lost the crucial time for developing her talent and will no longer be a competitive choice for professional piano playing as all of her peers will have had years of developing and honing their skills where her's have only been atrophying. She really is losing out on a career and a chance to escape the muffled bourgeois existence she'd inherited.

I think the movie's strength, tho', is how it doesn't become heavy-handed about it. The subplot sits there in the corner, darkening the narrative, but never becomes part of any explicit moral judgement on behalf of the film nor is allowed to negate the genuine positives about the parents.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 11:05 am 
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Could there be something in the plane vs. piano metaphor that relates to the occupation? I'm not proficient at either skill, but the piano seems like a much greater challenge to master, and the reward for doing so is a triumph of art, one of the superior privileges of being human. In contrast, flying a plane seems easier to master (especially in this film), more purely functional, and the thrills that come with it stem from defiance (i.e. man does not belong in the air). The record that Thérèse breaks comes from just sitting there and manning the controls for a longer amount of time than some would think prudent, which is not necessarily an achievement of elegance. But maybe this relates to the daring effort necessary to break free from Nazi control, whereas true human freedom (i.e. time to master the piano) must be sacrificed for now, but will have its time soon after.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 11:48 am 
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For what it's worth, Hitler was one of the first politicians to make campaign stops by airplane. And the Luftwaffe was an integral part of the devastating German war machine.

Though in the film, aeroplanes seem to represent individual initiative and freedom and technical challenges. Maybe this French individual and ad hoc approach -- the aviatrix simply asks if there is anyone around who can work on her plane's engine -- could be contrasted to the regimented German military approach (which is not in the film, but was the real world context of the times). If nothing else, there is a charming old-style do-it-yourself approach to flying in this French town, which certainly seems quaint and archaic and unprepared for mechanized warfare.

I really didn't think about the implications of WWII and the Occupation while watching the film or even afterwards. The orphans were an odd touch and they essentially begin and end the film. There is the chance that the girl and her (underdeveloped) brother might lose one or both parents, and be forced to march around and sing falsetto at the beginning and end of films. The orphans do add a slightly gloomy/foreboding presence, possibly a commentary on the times.

To add to Sausage's thoughts about the ambiguity of any moral message and general ambivalence of the film. The muffled bourgeois life isn't that bad. Airplanes are after all kind of cool -- especially one would assume to the son, who is barely in the film -- Mom & Dad become minor local celebrities, etc. And there's no guarantee the girl had enough talent to do much with her piano playing. The local teacher is impressed with her nascent ability, but it's unclear beyond that if she would be good enough to get into the conservatory or be able to pursue it as an adult.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 21, 2013 2:33 pm 
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I think, from what we see of the daughter, she has a genuine love of art that has nothing to do with how the outside world will see it. There's a very clear relationship set up between her die hard dedication to the piano and her mother's to flying, and it certainly seems that she'll be as or more miserable than her mother would have been without flying.

I think that, to me, the aspect of the film that felt like it might relate to the Occupation was how quickly the townsfolk shifted to the winning side, and how much they allowed their humdrum concerns and shitty, conservative values to override any human empathy or understanding of romantic individualism. They're not bad people, per se, but they're surely people who would choose to allow Nazi rule rather than fighting and risking their lives and livelihoods. That's not an usual backdrop against which to set a breaking free narrative, as the characters have to have something to break free of, but I think the scene where Pierre is being endlessly harried and kicked while he's down goes far beyond anything I would normally expect along those lines, particularly at the genuinely horrifying point at which the town appears to have massed together in a mob to murder Pierre and his children for 'allowing' his wife to be different and take risks. The movie defuses that, but the dread remains and seems applicable to a wartime mentality, I think.


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 6:52 am 

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It's interesting how the sub-narrative about Jacqueline and her pianos is so central to this discussion. The film establishes the parallel between that and the main narrative early in the second scene when Pierre reassures with unconscious accuracy, "the piano won't fly away," a few minutes before it plummets to earth! Pianistic daughters are quite common in 1940s cinema. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Mildred Pierce (pianism as social aspiration), It's a Wonderful Life (discordance testing dad's love), Bergman's It Rains On Our Love (piano as snobbery again) and No Sad Songs For Me (bonding agent between daughter and mother/stepmother).

In the very opening scene, we hear the orphans singing, "No, my daughter, you shall not go dancing," repeated later in the film, including the scene with the two children after the second piano is sold. I don't know the song but it seems ironic for orphans to be singing words that place themselves in the role of (repressive) parents, and this reminds us that Thérèse is both a mother and a daughter. Her stifling of Jacqueline's aspirations (first locking the piano, then selling it) may well be a continuation of the repression she endured as a child - and still does to some extent - by her own mother, judging from the way the latter is characterised. Of course, Thérèse does break free - and how - during the course of the film and perhaps the film is telling us Jacqueline will have to do the same as an adult (though, as noted above, it might well be too late then for a budding musician).

It's remarkable how little tenderness either parent shows for their children. When Jacqueline runs to tell her dad that the (first) piano has been smashed, his reaction is not a single word of consolation but a brusque, "I can see that!" followed by a useless inspection of the debris, as if the material loss is more significant to him than its effect on Jacqueline. The later scene where he practises emotional blackmail to persuade her to sell the second piano is unflinchingly horrible as he comes on like King Lear ("I thought you loved us more than that. It hurts to have such a selfish daughter.") Thérèse is no better; she doesn't even ask to speak to her children when she phones home.

Flying is clearly a bonding agent between the parents, cementing their love for each other (at the expense of that for their children) - and I'd argue it's a metaphor for highly erotic love. When Thérèse returns to earth from her first flight she acts like she's in a post-orgasmic delirium, touching her husband's face - as if discovering him for the first time - then collapsing into his arms, followed by him kissing her repeatedly (the fact she's flown with another man becomes insignificant). Early popular songs about flying humorously emphasised erotic thrills ("Me and Jane in a Plane", "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine"). It has been suggested the film later becomes like a gambling or drug addiction movie, but looking away from the monetary element it feels to me more like one about the ups and downs of compulsive high risk sexual behaviour.

I'm slightly puzzled by the description in Criterion's liner notes of it as "a superb example of the woman's picture". Maybe the definition of that genre has expanded to include more overtly protofeminist works but I regard it as almost synonymous with "the weepie," films about female suffering and sacrifice as well as strength (Jacqueline suffers and sacrifices of course but she isn't the main female protagonist). Other films about aviatrices (e.g. Christopher Strong, Flight for Freedom) more or less fit the genre, though admittedly those are Hollywood examples. I do expect a "woman's picture" to emphasise the female viewpoint more than this one does: Thérèse is often absent, crucially in the climax of the film when the focus is on Pierre, anticipating the town's treatment of George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life in the way its hostility miraculously shifts to a jubilant rally round.

But I don't find the end of Le Ciel hopeful at all. I don't know what ultimately happened to the film's real-life counterparts but within the film's fictional world, the more Thérèse flies the higher the risk she'll end up in a fatal crash like the doctor (and most movie aviators). The way Grémillon, in the concluding moments, undercuts the temporary jubilation by swinging his camera round to finish on the black-clad orphans is a real killer punch!


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 11:48 am 
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Jonathan S wrote:
I'm slightly puzzled by the description in Criterion's liner notes of it as "a superb example of the woman's picture".

I think this is just based on a rather simplistic reading of the film's plot as "woman is told she shouldn't do something, does it anyway and excels at it." This jibes with one of the English titles for the film, The Woman Who Dared. It's not necessarily inaccurate, but obviously there's a lot more going on here.

I hadn't thought of the ending as presenting a fleeting high point in Thérèse's inevitable demise, but I kind of like that idea! And yet the ending still doesn't feel false like it would if, say, a movie about a compulsive gambler ended with him finally winning that big jackpot. (Actually though, that could be a great ending if it was done right.)


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 1:43 pm 
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swo17 wrote:
I hadn't thought of the ending as presenting a fleeting high point in Thérèse's inevitable demise, but I kind of like that idea! And yet the ending still doesn't feel false like it would if, say, a movie about a compulsive gambler ended with him finally winning that big jackpot. (Actually though, that could be a great ending if it was done right.)

See: California Split. Unless you've seen it and are just obliquely referencing it because everyone already knows this. I am never sure around here.

I think the "woman's picture" label must have been how the film was marketed (possibly even pitched), especially given the English title Swo cites. It has the contours of the genre, in a strong woman stuggling to balance family, work, love, and dreams, but is obviously interested in things far beyond the usual scope of such films, mainly how a couple and family deal with these things rather than just the woman. And that central romance, as lovely, supportive, and progressive as it is, is pretty odd. There's a touch of some surrealist l'amour fou in how the two are so into each other and their cooperative efforts that everything, even the kids, just falls away. Like Jonathan notes, it's almost sexual.

I don't see how anyone can see that ending as a downright downer though--it's just too much of a joyous occasion, what with Therese's and Pierre's embrace. Gremillon undercuts the joy with the orphans, but reading that as a portent of Therese's doom seems like the most willfully negative of all ways to read that. I'd rather think about all the dead in WWII than a dead Therese at that point--it's a whole lot sunnier!


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 1:55 pm 
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I disagree that Pierre showed a lack of empathy towards his daughter in the early going in the movie- his reaction seemed to be more one borne of a practical need to stay positive and constructive (a consistent characteristic of his) than of apathy towards his daughter's loss. Then too, his later cruelty towards his daughter is quite clearly the product of his desire to help his wife achieve her dreams by whatever means necessary, including sparing her the pain of being cruelly selfish towards the girl herself. It doesn't excuse him, but I do think that he comes off as quite a loving and caring father, overall. It's just that he's first and foremost a loving and caring husband.

I do think it functions as a 'woman's picture' primarily insofar as it's, you know, a movie about a woman- it consistently undercuts the melodramatic plot developments that would normally characterize that genre, or at least the Hollywood iterations I've seen.


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 1:55 pm 
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Shrew wrote:
swo17 wrote:
And yet the ending still doesn't feel false like it would if, say, a movie about a compulsive gambler ended with him finally winning that big jackpot. (Actually though, that could be a great ending if it was done right.)

See: California Split. Unless you've seen it and are just obliquely referencing it because everyone already knows this. I am never sure around here.

I should have gone on to say "finally winning that big jackpot and then celebrating it with all the vigor that Pierre shows at the end of this film." That was the image I had in my head that I didn't quite convey with my original comment.


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 3:40 pm 

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matrixschmatrix wrote:
I do think it functions as a 'woman's picture' primarily insofar as it's, you know, a movie about a woman- it consistently undercuts the melodramatic plot developments that would normally characterize that genre, or at least the Hollywood iterations I've seen.

For me, it feels more a movie about a couple (or even a family). Although it ultimately perhaps celebrates a woman's achievement, Thérèse's viewpoint or emotions rarely seem to be privileged in the way I expect of a "woman's picture", at least the Hollywood type, which as you say it undercuts.

I agree that the parents overall are quite decent, and the fact that their flaws and deficiencies are set in that context is what makes their characterisations believable and all the more disturbing to me. My own father was basically loving and generous towards me as a boy, but also capable of occasional acts which even in retrospect seem like mental cruelty though to him they were nothing more than jokes. That's what people are like...

I do tend to look for negatives (one of my worst nightmares would be to win any kind of jackpot!) but I find the final image genuinely disturbing, a culmination of a black thread (the line of orphans) which has been winding its way through the film. It reminds me in a way of the ending of Val Lewton's The Ghost Ship, where the conventional heterosexual union is undercut in various ways, including the proximity of crates marked "FRAGILE".


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 27, 2013 5:38 am 

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A couple more thoughts...

The repeated verbal references to the "Triumphal March" from Aida - beloved by the repressive mother-in-law and disparaged by the cultured music teacher - may be significant to the film's anti-fascist subtext. Verdi's Aida is of course Italian, and the famous "Triumphal March" is - within the opera - a celebration of Egypt's conquering of Ethiopia. Although set in ancient times, and premiered in 1871, the opera in WW2 could easily be seen as a parallel of Mussolini's particularly brutal conquering of Ethiopia in 1935-6. Ethiopia's independence and its Emperor had been restored by 1941, but its struggle against fascist oppression would be well-known. The mother-in-law's repressive views on personal matters thus acquire a covert political dimension through her championing of Aida's "Triumphal March". It is of course humorously ironic that in the final sequence she clearly enjoys the triumphal procession in honour of Thérèse.

Re. the title, I presume the "correct" translation of Le ciel est à vous is "The Sky is Yours". But, since, "le ciel" can also mean "heaven", couldn't it also be translated as "Heaven is Yours" with the obvious implication of death? If so, the ambiguity of the title seems to crystallise many of the film's ambivalences - the fine line between success and failure, freedom and death, etc. - that we've discussed.


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 27, 2013 4:48 pm 
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Shrew wrote:
But especially it's the blurred line between heroism and foolishness that resonates most strongly with a resistance fighting against an occupation. Allied victory marks the difference between troublemakers and heroes. There are a few odd lines throughout that build into this too, like Therese's strange "It must be easy to be brave when everyone is watching you" at the air show, and of course the recurring use of "Time of Lilacs and Roses" mentioned in the liner notes.

Klaylock wrote:
I am still trying to figure out what to make of the gorgeous opening crane shot, though the herd of sheep turning into the orphans "shepherded" by the schoolmaster seems to advance a deterministic interpretation of the plot. The orphans did make me tense every time they could be heard singing, as it seemed a reminder of how the two children could end up, with their parents dangerously jetting about the air!

matrixschmatrix wrote:
the wife goes from someone who threatened to be a bourgeois wet blanket in the mode of her own mother to a really delightful and adventurous character, from reinforcing the societal mold to ignoring it altogether... It's a satisfying irony that the one person who comes to Pierre's aid when Thérèse seems lost- the one person who is steadfast and true within himself, unlike the hypocritical townsfolk (perhaps another place where a sly comment on the Occupation slips through) is the piano teacher, who is able to see Thérèse's great love of the sky as being allied to his own... There's a deep irony, I think, in the way that [Thérèse] totally departs the path of middle class normality herself, but does so in a way that still doesn't allow her to grant her daughter any real freedom.

Jonathan S wrote:
In the very opening scene, we hear the orphans singing, "No, my daughter, you shall not go dancing," repeated later in the film, including the scene with the two children after the second piano is sold. I don't know the song but it seems ironic for orphans to be singing words that place themselves in the role of (repressive) parents, and this reminds us that Thérèse is both a mother and a daughter. Her stifling of Jacqueline's aspirations (first locking the piano, then selling it) may well be a continuation of the repression she endured as a child - and still does to some extent - by her own mother, judging from the way the latter is characterised... The later scene where he practises emotional blackmail to persuade her to sell the second piano is unflinchingly horrible as he comes on like King Lear ("I thought you loved us more than that. It hurts to have such a selfish daughter.")... The way Grémillon, in the concluding moments, undercuts the temporary jubilation by swinging his camera round to finish on the black-clad orphans is a real killer punch!

A few thoughts on the orphans, and on the use of music in the film...

Jonathan Rosenbaum, in this article, says this about the beginning of the film: 'It opens with a long pan revealing first a shepherd leading a flock of sheep (a mass of white) and then a clergyman-teacher leading a group of orphaned boys (a mass of black).' He seems to be emphasising the distinction between the white sheep and black orphans, which certainly makes for a striking image here, but I would say the shot suggests a parallel between these two flocks. We see the sheep being herded by a shepherd and his dogs, then the orphans being herded by their teacher (with the use of a whistle). As Jonathan pointed out above, the song they're singing - 'Sur le pont du nord' - suggests repressive parenting. You can find a translation of the lyrics here, and apparently in the booklet of MoC's edition of Le Pont du Nord. It's a nursery rhyme about a girl whose mother won't let her go to a dance, so her brother takes her secretly - but then they both drown. The song ends with a line about 'all the bells ringing' as a knell to the children's deaths, although it seems that in some versions it just ends by saying 'see the fate of obstinate children'.

So it's a suitably ambiguous text for this film to revolve around: is this a song in which the mother prudently tries to protect her daughter, but the daughter wilfully seeks her own destruction; or is it a song in which the mother's overly repressive attitude results in the deaths of both her children? The orphans in Grémillon's film are called away from their own dancing and into a march (which is how we always see them from now on) by the sound of church bells. I don't recognise the melody being played on these bells, but it seems to echo the children's song, albeit in a more ominous key. It's interesting, therefore, that it's not just the orphans who become a recurring motif in the film - the bells do as well.

It's been suggested that the orphans represent the potential dangers incurred by Pierre and Thérèse's exploits. That is, these parents could be neglecting, depriving and perhaps even orphaning their children. But the orphans seem to be associated with the sheep-like crowds that become another prominent motif. The opening shot looks down on the field from a great height, allowing us to see nothing but the ground. It is echoed by a shot at the end of the film when Thérèse returns triumphant from her flight and the townspeople carry her from the plane to the 'monument' she is to unveil. In a film where the sky dominates so many of the compositions (which I think often makes up for the paucity of actual aeroplane-shots), moments like these stick out, and they hint at something that is absolutely crucial to the film's 'message', such as it is.

The arch-villain in this film is the crowd. Over and over again, Grémillon works to distinguish between the mindless many-headed multitude and the individuals who exempt themselves from it. Thérèse's line about how easy it is to be brave when you have an audience watching you is one of the most important in the film. Lucienne Ivry is set up as a glamorous, showy and popular aviatrix, perpetually hounded by journalists, photographers and well-wishers; meanwhile the Gauthiers hang around on the sidelines, in one memorable shot looking in through a grimy window as Ivry is being celebrated at the plush bar inside.

So here's an interesting train of associations: sheep - orphans - repressive parents - the march - the crowd - the march from Aida - Thérèse's mother - the noise of triumphal brass bands. Note the telling dissolve from Jacqueline and her teacher playing 'Lilacs and Roses' on the pianos to the brash trumpets introducing the pompous aerodrome and Lucienne Ivry's imminent performance - a pointed change in instrumentation, since we have just heard the teacher saying that the march from Aida is more suited to trumpets.

The film distinguishes between the bad taste and repressive attitudes of the multitude and the free-spirited Gauthiers; Dr. Maulette is a natural ally of the latter, because while his colleagues are having their photos taken he is fussing around exercising his tact and good taste to make the event special. He and the Gauthiers are enthusiastic amateurs. They never think too much about what they're doing, but always follow their instincts at any cost, and the film largely admires them for that because it sets them apart and enables them to achieve something special.

One feature of this film's mise-en-scène is that it often feels very cluttered - with the mother's knickknacks in the Gauthier household, with the bits and pieces in the garage, with 'flocks' of various kinds; even in the Marseille hotel room, we're given a vivid sense of the (slightly oppressive) noise and bustle outside, and the room is quite claustrophobic (even the radiator in the corner and the painting of a ship on the wall seem to contribute to this, and to an overall sense of stolidity).

Yet the camera has a way of isolating the Gauthiers amongst this clutter, framing them together or in shot-reverse-shots that give them a sort of unassuming grandeur, so that they quietly rise above their surroundings. This helps to associate them with the sky itself, which as I said earlier often seems to dominate the frame, but also seems to represent a kind of escape from the world below - both Pierre and Thérèse talk about 'flying through the sky as though it were a garden', giving it a kind of paradisal air, appropriately enough given the double meaning of 'ciel' that Jonathan S has just pointed out.

And someone else observed that great moment when Pierre learns of Thérèse's success at the end, and the camera passes beyond the braying crowds to isolate Pierre in a moment of solitude and silence that must be taking place entirely in his head, in which he just smiles and says 'Thérèse'. This helps to emphasise that what the Gauthiers achieve has little to do with breaking a record, or impressing multitudes, or provoking grandiose fanfares. As the music teacher says, the flight is more about this married couple's relationship and their love - an expression of something very pure, self-contained and ultimately quite transcendent.

If the Gauthiers are such free spirits, why do they repress their daughter? Initially, Thérèse forbids Jacqueline from playing the piano because of bourgeois aspirations that, deep down, Thérèse herself doesn't really believe in anymore. Before this, she agreed to buy the piano Jacqueline wanted - in spite of her mother's disapproval - because the teacher cleverly got her to associate it with a song which represents the love between her and Pierre. By the teacher's own account, it's this same love (represented by the song) which then drives Thérèse to pursue the ambition that causes her to sell off Jacqueline's piano. It's all very complicated, and I think it gets more so when you look at the lyrics to the song, 'The Time of Lilacs and Roses' or the resistance poem, 'Lilacs and Roses', though I don't have anything concrete to say about them just now.

I would like to draw attention to three moments, though, which I think help to make sense of all this. The first comes when Pierre and Thérèse are working on the plane late at night. They speculate about what will happen if Maulette doesn't get the 50,000 francs they need. They discuss selling the piano, and Pierre says he would feel bad about this since Jacqueline is so attached to it - 'Wouldn't you?' he asks Thérèse. We then get a heroic low-angle shot of her declaring that she doesn't know anymore, that all she cares about is breaking the record, 'Même s'il fallait...' (Hope I've got the French right.) Her unnerving declaration that she would stop at nothing to achieve her goal is cut off by Marcel knocking at the door with the news of Maulette's death. He uses the phrase 'il fallait' twice in his faltering speech, and though it's a common phrase I think this helps to remind us of Thérèse's interrupted speech, and therefore to suggest a link between her hubris and Maulette's death. Then we hear those bells again - the same ones that sent the orphans into their march.

And again, you could interpret this in two ways: perhaps this is a bad omen, warning of the tragedy that might ensue if Thérèse pursues this fantasy any further; particularly given the nature of the conversation we've just been listening to, we might feel that the threat of orphanhood hangs heavy over the Gauthiers' children at this moment. What if Thérèse suffers the same fate as Maulette?

But I think the point is quite different. Thérèse's boundless enthusiasm echoes that of Maulette, but the fact that he dies doesn't invalidate this. Remember that he said the thought of death didn't bother him - specifically because he wouldn't be leaving any dependants behind, but in that scene with Pierre he did question whether this 'obsession' was really dangerous (Pierre said it was - Maulette seemed uncertain). Maulette represents boundlessness, the sense that nothing is off limits - Marcel, the limited little man who smashed the piano, comes bumbling in to tell the Gauthiers that this living emblem of limitless possibilities is now dead. The world of dull necessity comes crashing down on the Gauthiers, and this is what the bells signify: the voice of the repressive mother closing off opportunities.

The second moment I wanted to point out was the one just after the Gauthiers have sold Jacqueline's piano and gone off to Marseille. We see the two children wandering around the garage, where they say they were not allowed to go before. They look at the tracks left by the plane but regard them with a kind of dumb wonder. They're cut off from the world of aviation their parents have ben so immersed in, and they find it alien and remote.

The one important piece of information communicated by this scene is Jacqueline's report of her mother's parting words: 'Pardon pour le piano.' This serves, in part, as a proper answer to Pierre's question in the earlier scene: he felt bad about selling the piano, and so did Thérèse. Then we see and hear the orphans marching by outside, singing their song. The significance seems obvious: the children have been left alone by their parents, and there is a risk that they may be orphaned (deprived of a mother, in any case) in the long run.

Again, though, I would read this differently. What we learn here is that Thérèse understood, on some level, how important the piano was to Jacqueline. She doesn't exactly connect with her daughter's passion, any more than her daughter can comprehend her ambition to fly - but Thérèse does recognise that the piano is Jacqueline's passion, and that this has been stifled in order to pay for the plane. The question that remains then is: if Thérèse recognises this, why doesn't she reassure her daughter at the end of the film and promise to replace the piano? This question has been raised already in this thread, and it was the main question I was left with after my first viewing. The answer, I think, is that Thérèse doesn't need to support her daughter's piano-playing so explicitly, because she has already supported it, or rather nurtured and inspired it, in a much more profound way.

Pierre's emotional blackmail of Jacqueline over the piano is indeed horrifying - except that Jacqueline's response defuses it. 'Papa', she says incredulously, not for one moment taking his accusations seriously, and then she repeats her teacher's words about how small towns need girls like her, with her head high and her eyes looking far off into the 'ciel'. The point of that line is that small towns are small-minded and conventional, and need someone to come along and transgress once in a while. Jacqueline does this with total self-assurance, and I don't think it's quite true that she is being deprived of the chance to develop as a pianist - no, she doesn't go to the conservatory, but the teacher continues to give her lessons for free, and the clear implication is that she has inherited her mother's fearless independence and ambition, her refusal to conform to what The Crowd (and The Mother) want her to do. Yes, when the piano is sold it is replaced by bits of furniture which we see the (bitterly triumphant) grandmother arranging - she never did like the black piano clashing with her furniture, and now thanks to Thérèse's ambition she's got her way after all.

So the rule-breaking obsession with the plane ironically feeds into the repression fostered by Thérèse's mother? Only for a moment, because as we then find out, Thérèse apologises to her daughter for this. A pitifully small gesture you might think, but that doesn't seem to be the tone of the scene in the empty garage between the two children - it seems to me quite a poignant moment, which softens what Thérèse has done. Rather than seeing the children as orphaned, I think the film may be suggesting that the real legacy being handed down to them is one of (perhaps transgressive) enterprise and ambition. We see these children literally following the trail left by their parents' ambition, rather than marching in time to the orphans' tune.

The third moment is very similar. Pierre, returning home alone, has been met by his children at the train station, and is walking along the street with them, when they see the orphans marching past and stand still for a minute. Pierre and the children are standing in a large puddle. We could read this as another ominous moment where the father is confronted with the potential consequences of his and his wife's folly: 'my children might be marching with the orphans soon'.

But again, I'd read it the opposite way. In this shot, there is a particularly bright sky visible at the top of the frame, and at the bottom - reflected in the puddle the Gauthiers are standing in, so that it almost looks as though they are standing on, or close to, the sky. The mood at this point is overtly one of anxiety, but ultimately the shot tells us the same thing as the earlier scene with the children in the garage: their parents haven't consigned them to the marching orphan-band, they've given them the sky.

I think we would lose something if Thérèse promised her daughter a new piano at the end. Jacqueline will be looked after by the music teacher (who understands and appreciates the connection between the mother's and daughter's passions, without condemning the former), and will pursue her dream at any cost, precisely because that's the example her mother has set. The whole film is directed towards celebrating the achievements of little people who did great things under inauspicious, or outright hostile, circumstances - and it's inviting us to follow their example. This point would be diluted if Jacqueline were given more (explicit) help and support. That may not seem totally convincing, but I think there's something in it...

I also can't help thinking that the people of Villeneuve are missing the point at the end of the film: they swarm like the sheep and the orphans did in the film's opening shot, and then they make Pierre do that excruciating speech rather than letting him embrace his wife, they get the Gauthiers to put up a monument (which Pierre subverts beautifully by liberating the bust of Maulette from the stuffy meeting room, where it had to look on while Maulette's real legacy was trampled upon), and of course they have trumpet fanfares playing. The music teacher subverts that too by getting the band to play 'Lilacs and Roses', a song which represents the very personal and private love which really motivated this achievement.

The camera pans away from these gaudy celebrations to see the orphans marching once again, this time from foreground to background, and the clergyman doffs his cap to the soldier as he passes him by. I don't think this shot is asking us to remember the orphans - I think it shows them bowing out and saying farewell to us, for good. The threat they posed has been overcome, not just because the Gauthier children have not been orphaned, but because their parents' ambitions have been vindicated in spite of the town's efforts to suppress them. So I would read this final moment as uplifting rather than ominous. Like so much of the film, though, it could be interpreted from a number of different angles.

*****

One or two final points:

It's interesting that Pierre's enthusiasm for planes dates from the war, and from his partnership with the non-fictional war hero Georges Guynemer, who failed to return from a mission in 1917 and was never heard from again. (Thanks, Wikipedia. Thikipedia.) Is Pierre thinking of the war hero when he talks about the comrades up in the clouds, looking down at Thérèse and praising her courage? Possible significance for 'resistance' readings there.

This film gets better and better with each viewing; I've found re-watching it, and following this thread at the same time, an incredibly rewarding experience. Something I notice more each time is the subtle touches in the direction of actors, especially when it comes to reaction shots. Look at Marcel when Pierre is watching Lucienne Ivry and waxing lyrical about her prowess. Look at Robert when Thérèse comes home and then drives off in a fury to catch Pierre flying. Look at Pierre just after this, when Thérèse slaps her son. We learn so much about these characters, and this family, from these shots. Or the air traffic controllers when Pierre tells them Thérèse is flying after all. This attention to detail means that even the smallest parts are perfectly played - never mind the two masterful performances at the centre of the film. I've watched a few other Grémillons outside the Eclipse set for this project (Dainah, Gueule and Pattes Blanches), and this kind of subtlety does seem to be a hallmark of this director's work. Having said that, it also seems to be the lack of 'hallmarks' that makes him so interesting, and so neglected...


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 27, 2013 6:00 pm 
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Lovely post as usual, Sloper.

My own thought about the orphans, or I suppose orphaning in general, is that the film implies two different kinds of parentlessness: there is that represented by the orphans who, in losing their parents, have ironically lost their freedom as well, being herded along like sheep, or figures of death--all that black in a procession. They have lost family and gained the bonds of impersonal authority.

But the potential parentlessness of Jacqueline and her brother is quite different. For long stretches of the film, both kids are indeed quite overlooked, no more hammered home than in the scene where Therese returns home from selling cars and finds the kids mostly unaccounted for and the father acting as much a big brother as anything (encouraging his son to slide down the bannister until the latter is injured, when he's around at all). The next is when the plane is taken off to be sold, and the two kids wander alone through areas they were never allowed in, talking about their absent parents in a melancholy way. The kids are increasingly left to their own devices in the movie. But this lack of parenting does not turn them into the orphans, burdened by authority. On the contrary, the kids, Jacqueline especially, become quite different orphans: self-reliant, goal-oriented, and willing to break the rules to pursue their passions. One sees that Jacqueline will risk whatever she has to in order to get what she wants, much like her mother, and therefore is likely to grow up to pursue the same form of personal--if not necessarily professional--fulfillment. She does, indeed, submit to the authority of the family in many ways, but in the key areas does not, and she maintains focus on the day when she'll have no authority to bow to at all. We can agree that Therese has done poorly by her daughter, but has inadvertently set her daughter precisely the example the latter needed, something that may end up being equally valuable considering the alternative (Sloper's crowd-as-villain).

It seems Gremillon is contrasting two states of orphaning, the one where being cut off from a direct parental authority sends the orphan into an even more hard-lined and impersonal authority, and the one where being similarly cut off forces the orphan to become self-reliant and seek individualistic, personal happiness. I don't want to allegorize this too heavily, that would be a mistake; but there is certainly a parallel to be made with the occupation.


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 27, 2013 11:25 pm 
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This struck me as a film concerned with impulsivity. Pierre becomes re-entangled with his planes almost by accident. Therese takes up flying on a whim (and re-takes it on one as well). Even their son slides down the bannister enough times to hurt himself just as soon as his father okays it. And so on. Perhaps this is why the parents are so ill-equipped to handle their daughter's artistic ambitions: learning to fly or repairs engines in the world of the film is something which can be picked up relatively quickly. Yet mastering the piano would require not just constant practice but a complete removal from the family unit for tutelage at the Paris Conservatory. Unlike Therese's job at the car dealership (yet another decision made hastily minutes after being offered), there's no natural expiration date to Jacqueline's life choice. It is a career necessitating not just skill but discipline, and boy is Jacqueline in the wrong family for that. I must confess that while I enjoyed Pierre's hangdog charms, I found the (forgive the pun) flightiness of Therese and the couple as a unit to be something the film is never able to reconcile with the damage they incur to their daughter. I don't find much romantic about such wild excursions when they come at the expense of stability for a family. The Joad-esque caravan at the beginning of the film misdirects us from the variable wealths the family will come in and out of, but it plants dread well and makes it hard not to worry about everyone from the Mother-In-Law down waiting in the breadline soon after whatever strikes up this self-involved pair's fancy next.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 29, 2013 4:08 pm 
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Sloper wrote:
I've watched a few other Grémillons outside the Eclipse set for this project (Dainah, Gueule and Pattes Blanches), and this kind of subtlety does seem to be a hallmark of this director's work. Having said that, it also seems to be the lack of 'hallmarks' that makes him so interesting, and so neglected...

Having said that, I think you hit upon one of those hallmarks in your excellent post: Gremillon was himself a composer, and the selection and use of music in his films is seldom arbitrary. And you can expand that to his 'orchestrated' soundtracks in general.

And apropos of nothing much: that opening shot, with the sheep and children moving across the landscape, has always reminded me of Jansco, which is a rather startling point of reference for a film of that vintage.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 20, 2014 1:15 pm 
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All 3 films plus a handful of others (including silent) are screening in NYC's Museum of the Moving Image, Nov-Dec.

I haven't seen any of the ones not on the Eclipse set but always happy to hear of recommendations for those that are especially worth seeing (i.e. great in a theater, unavailable on home video in US).


Last edited by teddyleevin on Thu Nov 20, 2014 1:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 20, 2014 1:21 pm 
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Some discussion/recommendations here


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 14, 2015 5:07 pm 
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Remorques is a very nice, Hollywood style male melodrama from Gremilion. Gabin gives a great performance and the film has a great look, story, pace and style. The plot is rich with layers of literal and metaphorical doublings--indicated by the title, stormy weather, which also has literal and metaphorical meaning--making the romantic melodrama far more compelling than the genre usually is.

Gabin is the captain of a tub boat, they rescue ships in distress, answering SOS calls. The film opens laconically, at the wedding reception of one of the crew members. Just as things are winding down, an SOS comes through and the crew must all race back to the ship, including the groom, a minor crewman, missing his wedding night.
[Reveal] Spoiler:
They rescue the ship, but the conditions are fairly dire. The captain of the foundering ship is not grateful, and petulantly believes the tugboat crew was deliberately insulting him by not teleporting instantly to his aid. His wife hates him and announces she plans on leaving him. His crew hates him as well. So much so that in the middle of the storm, some of the crew and his wife abandon ship to get on board the tugboat--not that any of the lifeboat crew bother telling the tug crew what was wrong with the captain on the ship. Gabin and the captain's wife smolder at each other like Bacall and Bogart

The captain schemes and decides he will "get even" with the tugboat for insulting him in not teleporting to his location, and he orders his crew to cut the towing rope once they are in sight of port--which means he doesn't have to pay the tug boat company for rescuing him.

Furious, Gabin returns the wife and crew to the foundering ship and washes his hands of the matter.

Back on land, we learn Gabin's wife is terminally ill. Given that Gabin's company didn't get paid for the recent rescue the company is in an ill mood with him. He threatens to quit and they threaten to lay off all of his crew and sell the ship if he does so because they won't hire another captain. Beaten he stays on. His wife begs him to leave, she dreams of spending their final days together in a cottage, but she won't tell him that she's sick.

Gabin wanders, literally and figuratively with the captain's wife, who has left the captain. They begin an affair. The affair starts to interfere with his job, and they miss a rescue, because the first mate can't find Gabin. Then, while Gabin is off banging the captain's wife, Gabin's wife gets dire, he rushes to her bedside, she dies, he then rejects his lover and returns to the job, hard and beaten with a thousand yard stare of a man who thinks he is being punished for his sins.

Perhaps the greatest part of the film is the choral/mass recital ending as Gabin leaves his wife's side and returns to the boat the soundtrack becomes an intonation of a mass, an almost atonal choral backing, and a montage of Gabin descending stairs to reach the boat. It's as though he is walking into his own private hell, or purgatory, the story twists hard on this symbolic denouement, and makes me want to reevaluate the entire film for religious imagery and consider almost as a parable about temptation. The whole effect is startling, superb and perfectly pitched to the key of the melodrama that has preceded it, and it's really this ending that makes the film so remarkable.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 11:46 pm 
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Lumière d'été is a blatantly symbolic film protesting the occupation, and its also a superb romantic drama. The film opens on France, our main character as embodied by the character Michele, she is given a ride to her hotel by the suspiciously suave and moneyed man Patrice, our occupier, so to speak. There she meets the hotel operator, CriCri, who is in love with Patrice, and is our Vichy collaborator (she even has a gigantic cage of birds).

Michele is arriving at the hotel for a discrete sexual tryst with her painter lover, Roland, he has a big opera opening (he painted the sets) and will be arriving later. Roland never shows up, and Michele goes to bed alone.

Late that night, the strapping Julien arrives at the hotel, not bothering to check his name, he's waved upstairs, as Michele let everyone know she was waiting on her lover. Julien moves through the darkened room, sets his bag on the bed, which wakens Michele, she throws herself into his arms and kisses him passionately, exclaiming, "I fell asleep dreaming of you!" And then both parties are appropriately embarrassed when she turns on the light and discovers she was kissing the virile embodiment of patriotic French masculinity itself. Neither is too upset, considering well, sex and destiny and whatnot.

Julien gets his own room for the night, then leaves the next morning to join the construction crew he is working on.

Eventually, Michele's lover Roland arrives. he arrives three sheets to the wind, raving ire and flinging anger about in the manner of nasty drunks. He shouts his commiserations from their bedroom declaring he is broke and worthless. This is France, the intoxicated artiste who is easily conquered. This masculinity, we understand, is why France fell to the Germans.

Now that the stage of our five allegorical characters is set, the plot can begin to unfold. First, Patrice desires to conquer/rape/despoil Michele. And he decides the way to do it will be to easily overcome the pliable Roland--because where Roland goes, France follows. I mean Michele.

The whirlwind melodrama that follows is magnificent, culminating in a climax that moves through the not at all symbolic setting of France under construction. Rebuilding herself. making herself stronger. Yes. that's right, the final scene takes place entirely within the set of a massive public works project, a dam that seems to rival the immensity of the Hoover dam in its scale.

The entire film is delicious, tremendously fun, wonderfully acted and acerbically scripted. If this is allegory, and I think it is, it's one of the best I've ever seen. Absolutely marvelous.


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