‘Le Sang des Bêtes’ and ‘Judex’, are two French movies directed by Georges Franju in 1948 and 1963 respectively. The former is a short documentary depicting the men working in abattoirs in post-war France, whilst the latter is an adventure movie based on a silent film from 1916. ‘Le Sang des Bêtes’ is a brutal, difficult film, unflinchingly presenting the deaths of animals using a variety of methods including bolt-guns, hammers, axes and even fists. It is shocking, but its uncompromising presentation made me feel that the film was doing more than simply presenting the case of vegetarianism or demonstrating the tough, bloody lives of the working class of the time. It reminded me of ‘Night and Fog’, a documentary made seven years later, but whilst Alain Resnais clearly couldn’t present the events that occurred during the Holocaust, only the after-effects and the stories, with a similarly evocative and poetic narration, Franju’s documentary manages to give a taste of it, but uses the innocent animals as a proxy for the victims of the Nazi death camps. Having watched both films, they somehow bleed together, the suggestion and effects of mass slaughter in ‘Night and Fog’ with the front-and-centre presentation of it in ‘Le Sang des Bêtes’.
‘Judex’ is a much lighter film, packed with striking imagery including, most memorably, a ball inspired by the illustrations of J.J. Grandville, where the main characters wear birds-head masks. A cruel and avaricious banker is being blackmailed by magician and anti-hero Judex. The film follows a basic template of kidnapping, escapes, stunts, fights, all done with style and a rather distinct visual flair. It reminded me slightly of Fritz Lang’s Dr Mabuse movies, clearly taking inspiration from the pulp fiction tradition, a kind of French Raffles. The performances were basic and the plot was formulaic, but in terms of an action movie the pacing and sense of kinetic urgency were perfect. The stunts were surprisingly authentic and nervy, in one Judex scales a building and it is clearly the main actor rather than a double, something that Franju is keen to highlight with his direction. Frothy and disposable, there were two main reasons I wanted to watch this movie: the first because it is the same director who made the infamous horror movie ‘Les Yeux sans Visage’ (a film I’ve still not been able to locate) and secondly because bits of this film were an inspiration for the style of ‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’, a highlight of the recent movies I’ve watched.
Would I recommend them? ‘Le Sang des Bêtes’ – yes but once. Not for someone with a nervous disposition. I watched the making of ‘Apocalypse Now’ the following night (blog post coming soon) and I now feel like I’ve seen enough mistreatment of animals on screen. ‘Judex’ – yes as it’s fun and lively, but don’t expect depth or anything profound. If nothing else these films demonstrate the versatility of the director.