© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Recent Duvivier restorations reveal the filmmaker’s genius

Audrey Kupferberg in her home
Jackie Orchard
Audrey Kupferberg

Julien Duvivier is one of the most influential filmmakers of the Twentieth Century. He began working in the silent era in France. In the sound era, he continued to make significant films in Europe as well as high-budget, star-studded features in Hollywood.

Between 1919 and 1967, Duvivier wrote sixty-seven and directed seventy films, till he was killed in an auto accident at the age of 71. His influence on world cinema is powerful. Among those who learned from his work are Ingmar Bergman and his own contemporary Jean Renoir. It is no surprise that he is considered among the top five filmmakers of classic French cinema.

His sound films include Pepe Le Moko, Panique, Anna Karenina, and The Great Waltz. One of his earliest and most intensely dramatic sound films is the extraordinary David Golder, the story of a Polish Jew who makes a fortune in the roaring twenties of Paris, and then returns to poverty, based on the novel by Irene Neverovsky, and available through Criterion. Another significant of Duvivier’s early sound films is Poil de Carotte, made as a silent and then remade as a sound feature. If viewers only saw the two versions of Poil de Carotte and David Golder they likely would be profoundly impacted by Duvivier’s genius… his ability to combine filmmaking devices with a feeling for the human condition.

Many of his silent films have been difficult to see until now. Flicker Alley has released a voluminous Blu-ray collection called “Julien Duvivier in the 1920s”, part of their Cinema of Discovery series. The collection is a gift to film lovers. Featuring restorations by Lobster Films and Blackhawk Films from the best-surviving materials in world archives and private collections, the package includes 1001 minutes of Duvivier magic! Yes, more than 16 hours of material.

From the most significant of features to lighter-weight entertainments, Duviver’s controlling hand is evident. Aside from the added musical scores, it’s all about the visuals in silent films. His choice of shots is spot-on. In a time when some modern directors are over-using close-ups to intensify emotion, Duvivier knows when to employ the close-up. He employed fades, dissolves, split screen, overlaid shots, and skewed camera angles that convey story and emotion.

Natural settings work well for him. His use of filters on camera lenses that embellish the drama of clouds and make moving water into raging seas also helps to make his films effective.

Among the films to be rediscovered on this Blu-ray collection is the original filming of Poil de Carotte. To my mind, his silent and sound versions of this story are the highlights of Duvivier’s career. He stated that these projects were his favorites. Poil de Carotte, Carrot Top, is the derisive nickname given to a young boy by his abusive mother, a hateful woman who treats her two older children as royalty but detests her youngest. It’s the heart-breaking story of an unwanted child, a boy slapped around and forced to do hard labor. His mother is a beast, and his father is distracted by a political career. Eventually, the boy chooses to attempt suicide.

Other silent features in “Julien Duvivier in the 1920s” include a drama about a greedy rich man who sends a shipload of local sailors to their possible deaths in a vessel unfit for the sea, and a drama about a young couple about to marry, a fixed-up marrage by two major Brewers, till the bride-to-be finds out an amazing secret about her betrothed. Another feature focuses on a political radical who goes blind and thinks he sees Jesus, developing a special relationship with Christ. Another film features a modern department store in Paris.

All demonstrate Julien Duvivier’s ability to combine the tools of silent filmmaking with the capacity to show the inner workings of the hearts and convictions of his characters.

Related Content