Le Jour Se Lève (1939)

“You’re the type women fall in love with . . . I’m the type that interests them.”

‘Le Jour Se Lève’, directed by Marcel Carné in 1939, is a French drama starring Jean Gabin as a man driven to murder. The movie opens dramatically: a man staggers from a room in a high-rise building and, in a framing reminiscent of Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ tumbles down the stairs and dies. After this, the film focuses on the killer, trapped in his room, as he reminisces over the events that lead him there. The film moves between the man besieged by police in the room and flashbacks to a romantic plot involving a love triangle. It’s a tight movie with only four main characters and a claustrophobic series of sets. It appears simple, by Carné’s direction is anything but: each scene is laced with a weird sense of fantasy from the transitions between the flashbacks and current events to the use of smoke and light. Highlights of the film occur at the opening and closing of the film: the establishing shot of the apartment building, the staircase shot from above, has a kind of vertiginous feeling, whilst the final shot of the man lying dead whilst the police teargas canister explodes, emphasising the rays of the rising sun through the window turns a morbid and dark scene into something profound and beautiful. In its narrative construction, its performances and its mise-en-scene, ‘Le Jour Se Lève’ is a groundbreaking movie, surely an influence on Hitchcock. It almost didn’t exist: when America remade it the studio bought as many copies as possible and tried to destroy it, but the film was recovered. Like Carné’s later classic ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’, the very existence of this movie is a minor miracle.

Would I recommend it? Yes – watch in a double bill with ‘La Règle du Jeu’ for a complete vision of the “poetic realism” film genre.

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