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03 January 2015

Un carnet de bal (1937)

In 2015, we continue our weekly series of film specials. Today a post about a poetic French classic, Un carnet de bal/Dance Program (1937), directed by the great Julien Duvivier. Marie Bell plays a woman who goes back in the past, in search of her long lost dance partners.

Marie Bell
Marie Bell. French postcard. Photo: collection Ciné Miroir.

Harry Baur in Un Carnet de Bal (1937)
Harry Baur. French postcard by Edition Chantal, Paris. Photo: publicity still for Un Carnet de Bal/Dance Program (Julien Duvivier, 1937).

A turning point in her life


Un Carnet de bal starts romantically on the banks of a fairy tale lake surrounded by mountains, where the still young and rich widow Christine Sugère (Marie Bell - at the time 37) lives alone after the death of her husband.

She realizes she has possibly wasted her life by marrying the wrong man.

Just for the fun of it, she decides to find out about the men who danced with her during her first ball when she was 16. The ball was a turning point in her life

Following her old Dance Card (carnet de bal), Christine pays a visit to those forgotten dance partners, one by one. She is not only surprised to see how they have fared, but also discovers the impact she had, unknowingly, on the feelings and the destiny of these men.

The dream cast of Un carnet de bal includes such legendary names of the French cinema as Marie Bell, Fernandel, Harry Baur, Louis Jouvet - in one of his best roles, Pierre Blanchar, Raimu, Pierre Richard Willm, Francoise Rosay... All of them at the peak of their form.

Julien Duvivier created a ‘portmanteau’ film with seven flashbacks, one prologue and a short epilogue. The parts are held together musically by Maurice Jaubert's haunting theme melody, the waltz Valse Grise. The postcards in this post show five of Christine's dance partners, who are all a subject for one of the segments.

Fernandel in Un Carnet de Bal (1937)
Fernandel. French postcard by Edition Chantal, Paris. Photo: publicity still for Un Carnet de Bal/Dance Program (Julien Duvivier, 1937).

Pierre Blanchar in Un Carnet de Bal (1937)
Pierre Blanchar. French postcard by Edition Chantal, Paris. Photo: publicity still for Un Carnet de Bal/Dance Program (Julien Duvivier, 1937).

Ruined lives, regrets, embittered human wrecks


Un carnet de bal was a box office success in France and the US. Modern reviewers have mixed opinions about the film.

James Travers at French Film Site: "Un carnet de bal is a good example of French cinema of the late 1930s, and one of the earliest successful attempts at the episodic film which became so popular in subsequent decades. The multi-part structure of the film (effectively a series of loosely connected vignettes) is a little unsatisfying, but the individual stories are themselves almost perfectly formed."

DB DuMonteil however is a a Duvivier fan and rates the film at IMDb with the maximum of 10 stars: "Leonard Maltin gives a four stars rating to this 1937 movie, and all we can do is approve of his judgment. The movie of nostalgia, of time passing by, of disenchantment, Un carnet de bal is all this and more."

In her search, Christine discovers ruined lives, regrets, embittered human wrecks. DB DuMonteil: "As always in Duvivier's work, the harder they fall, the better the sketches are. For it is basically a movie made up of sketches, Julien Duvivier's métier. All youth ideals have gone down the drain: the brilliant medicine student has become an abortionist; the lawyer with bright prospects now has a lousy shady cabaret; one of the woman's beaus is dead and his mother gone nuts acts as if he's still alive. Two of them have escaped to a doomed fate: but one has become a priest and the other keeps his love for something else than women."

At the 1937 Venice International Film Festival, Un carnet de bal won the award for best foreign film. In 1941, Duvivier remade his own film when he was in exile in Hollywood. In Lydia (Julien Duvivier, 1941) the title role was played by Merle Oberon, while Alan Marshall, Joseph Cotten and Hans Jaray played three of her former dance partners.

Pierre Richard Willlm in Un Carnet de Bal (1937)
Pierre Richard Willm. French postcard by Edition Chantal, Paris. Photo: publicity still for Un Carnet de Bal/Dance Program (Julien Duvivier, 1937).

Raimu in Un Carnet de Bal (1937)
Raimu. French postcard by Edition Chantal, Paris. Photo: publicity still for Un Carnet de Bal/Dance Program (Julien Duvivier, 1937).

Sources: James Travers (French Film Site), DB DuMonteil (IMDb), Eduardo Casais (IMDb), Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

1 comment:

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