- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

About 30 years ago, Francois Truffaut selected and annotated a collection of articles by his late mentor, Andre Bazin. Collected under the title “French Cinema of the Occupation and Resistance,” the pieces were concerned with French movies produced during World War II. Still a prospective teacher at the time, Mr. Bazin (1918-58) was several years away from becoming a professional film critic and editor of film periodicals, not to mention an exemplar for aspiring young filmmakers of the late 1950s such as his protege, Mr. Truffaut (1932-84).

One of the tardier Bazin anthologies to be translated and published in the United States (in 1981), the book will prove useful for spectators seeking contemporary impressions of the period and the handful of titles chosen for a retrospective series called “French Cinema Under the Occupation,” which begins today at 3 p.m. at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre with a revival of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Le Corbeau.”

An expertly corrosive poison-pen thriller of 1943, this launch vehicle was regarded by Mr. Truffaut as one of the most socially and emotionally authentic movies he saw as an avid teenage patron during the German Occupation.

The raven of the title alludes to the signature favored by the author of malicious letters circulating in a provincial town. Deceptions and betrayals were so commonplace during the period that Mr. Truffaut regarded it as a self-evident injustice when the film, a sore point from the outset, was banned after the liberation and the director scorned and suspended as a collaborationist.

In his foreword to the Bazin collection, Mr. Truffaut includes a list of 85 movies from the years 1940-45 that he thought remained “interesting” a generation later. Since the AFI Silver is showcasing only half a dozen, a case could be made that several more editions of “Under the Occupation” are needed to do justice to both the subject and Mr. Truffaut’s ghost.

“Le Corbeau” and Marcel Carne’s classic, “Children of Paradise,” a sumptuous and stirring adornment to the medium for the past 60 years, reached American art houses in the late 1940s. Only the latter has remained a revival fixture ever since. They also remain the only titles in the series readily available in DVD editions, from the Criterion Collection.

Jacques Becker’s sardonic murder melodrama about a prolific peasant family, “Goupi Mains Rouges” (“It Happened at the Inn”), which alludes to Fernand Ledoux as one of a dozen nicknamed Goupis, was once an art house staple. Opportunities to see the remaining titles have become very rare: Jean Gremillon’s “Remorques,” a romantic reunion for Jean Gabin and Michele Morgan as a tugboat captain and the alluring shipwreck survivor he rescues; Claude Autant-Lara’s “Douce,” a social satire about class antagonism in Paris, circa 1887; and Marcel L’Herbier’s “La Nuit Fantastique,” the comeback triumph of a famous filmmaker of the 1920s who contrived to evoke the silent period within the framework of a long night’s dream.

To conclude the festival, the French Embassy’s theater site, La Maison Francaise, hosts one film made in recent years, Bertrand Tavernier’s “Safe Conduct,” which concerns the professional dilemmas of people anxious to pursue movie careers without inviting calamity from either the government or the Resistance.

Despite the censorship constraints imposed by the Vichy government and German authorities, Mr. Truffaut credits the period with providing breakthrough opportunities for about two dozen capable young directors, a number that seemed to plummet in the decade and a half after the war. His partial explanation: “The prosperity of French cinema during the war might be attributed to several factors besides the strong need for escape and entertainment experienced by a population deprived of heat, transportation, dancing and food. For the first time in the history of the cinema there was no competition from American films.”

Mr. Bazin thought that the shortcomings of the movie industry were all too understandable. “A captive nation that refused to exalt its slavery and yet could not proclaim its desire for freedom had to develop an escapist cinema,” he concluded in the fall of 1944. “The public wanted the screen to be its window and not its mirror. The result was this paradoxical phenomenon: the social art par excellence is the one to least express contemporary French society. Men are still oppressed, if only by life itself. Dreams will remain their basic expectation from the screen.”

EVENT: Retrospective film series “French Cinema Under the Occupation”

WHERE: American Film Institute Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road in Silver Spring; and (one program only) La Maison Francaise, 4101 Reservoir Road NW.

WHEN: Occasional dates between today and Nov. 10

ADMISSION: At the AFI Silver, $9.25 for the general public and $7.50 for AFI members, students and seniors (65 and over). At La Maison Francaise, $5, by reservation only.

PHONE: AFI Silver, 301/495-6720; La Maison, 202/944-6090.

Schedule of screenings for the “French Cinema Under the Occupation” series:

Today: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Le Corbeau” (“The Raven”). Also screens on Wednesday and Thursday .

Tomorrow: Jean Gremillon’s “Remorques” (“Stormy Waters”). Also screens Thursday.

Oct. 22: Jacques Becker’s “Goupi Mains Rouges” (“It Happened at the Inn”). Also screens Oct. 24.

Oct. 23: Claude Autant-Lara’s “Douce.” Also screens Oct. 24.

Oct. 28-30: Marcel Carne’s “Les Enfants du Paradis” (“Children of Paradise”)

Nov. 6-7: Marcel L’Herbier’s “La Nuit Fantastique” (“Fantastic Night”)

At La Maison Francaise:

Nov. 10: Bertrand Tavernier’s “Laisser-passer” (“Safe Conduct”)


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