dir. Jean Grémillon
Lumière d’été is yet another great picture Grémillon made during the Nazi Occupation of France during World War II and, like so many French pictures, concerns itself with those damnably, eternally and irrepressibly entertaining affaires de cœur.
Though repressed and vilified by the notorious collaborationist Vichy government, the movie seems less a criticism (and if so, submerged) than a representational view of a time and place that might only exist under such a turncoat regime. In a sense, and most fascinatingly, the film's critical eye upon Vichy might be seen to be as blatant as it is submerged.
The setting is a remote hotel high in the mountains - gorgeously designed with expansive picture windows to provide both a great view and watchful eyes upon the valley below. Bearing the name L'Ange Gardien (The Guardian Angel), it overlooks the intrusive activities of a demolition company that is in the process of constructing a dam - destroying the valley's natural beauty and assaulting the eardrums of all its inhabitants.
These intruders work with the full support of the "establishment" and in so doing, at least within narrative terms, it's not a stretch to think that Grémillon and his screenwriters, including the legendary Jacques (Les Enfants du paradis) Prévert, were pointing a finger, at least metaphorically, upon the Vichy and by extension, the Nazis. This seems likely since the movie includes, very early on and throughout, the war-like explosions coming from the seemingly endless rock blasting.
As such, Grémillon achieves the seemingly impossible. He serves up a piping hot platter of delectable cinematic comestibles that condemn, expose and/or, depending how you choose to take it, examine the strange world wrought under the Vichy whilst providing the double-scoop indulgence of luxuriating in its own sumptuous, glorious and thoroughly compelling melodrama. We, of course, luxuriate with it. Grémillon and his collaborators in front and behind of the camera work overtime to deliver a movie so infused with emotional resonance that one is hit with scene after scene that will inspire several torrential downpours from one's tear ducts.
Blending high-stakes emotions that are as truthful as they are extreme, Grémillon dapples his multi-bi-polar world with many surprising moments of deep, delicious and decidedly dark humour. Commenting hilariously at every turn of the action that unfolds - not to mention almost every line of consequence uttered by the hotel guests and/or in retort to the duties he's ordered to perform, the crotchety old servant Monsieur Louis (Marcel Levésque) wanders in and out of the proceedings like some one-man, one-line Greek Chorus. Levésque, for those who care (as should ALL!), is that he's the inveterate scenery-chewer who was immortalized by Louis Feuillade as Mazamette in Les vampires, his great 1916 serial.
He's such a great presence here. In fact, it doesn't take long for Monsieur Louis to eventually becomes a kind of "What the fuck!?" surrogate for us, the audience. Believe me, it comes in mighty handy - especially since the romantic entanglements, jealousies, anger, repression and nutty obsessions that roil madly during this one fateful weekend at the L'Ange Gardien mount with every passing scene.
The hotel is run by the middle-aged beauty Cri-Cri (Madeleine Renaud) who holds a torch for her rakish rich lover Patrice (Paul Bernard) who, in turn, develops un unhealthy obsession with the beautiful, young Michèle (Madeleine Robinson) who shows up at the hotel to meet her untalented alcoholic artist boyfriend Roland (Pierre Brasseur) who is more interested in where his next drink is coming from and drives the young beauty into the arms of the jaw-droppingly hunky miner Julien (Georges Marchal).
What we get is no mere doomed ménage à trois as might be expected from a tale involving affairs of the heart, but rather, a magnificent roundelay of obsessional love that, for lack of a better term, is best viewed as a ménage de l'abondance.
Here's the roadmap of love and regret:
Cri-Cri loves Patrice. Patrice murdered his ex-wife out of love for Cri-Cri. Cri-Cri gave up a promising and exciting career to disappear into the mountains with Patrice. Years pass. Neither is getting any younger and yet, marriage is not even a dim hope.
Michèle is devoted to Roland, but he's a major fuck-up. Patrice has his eye on Michèle. This makes Cri-Cri jealous. It also disturbs Roland. More importantly, Michèle has her eye on Julien and he's jealous of both Patrice and Roland. Patrice, in turn, is jealous of Julien. Roland, ultimately is happiest when he's pissed out of his skull.
And then there's the eternal watcher Monsieur Louis. His response to everything is a deadpan: "Why not?"
Why not, indeed!
Slowly, but surely, all the mad passions collide during an insanely opulent costume ball that Patrice throws at his mansion. Egos collide with all the requisite Grémillon aplomb and here, his kino eye renders some of the most gorgeous, sumptuously malevolent and romantic imagery in all of cinema.
And as if this wasn't enough, crazed conga lines, a drunken Hamlet, a desperate Ophelia, a stalwart stud, a woman scorned and a creaky, spindly, old William Tell with an apple on his head all become unwitting targets of a madman (mad with love and jealousy, of course). In no time at all, Lumière d’été careens wildly from a Cinderella ball on acid to a terrifying drunken drive along the mountain highways and finally, to a mad climax involving unexpected gunplay and disaster in the air on a cable car suspended precariously above the valley.
At times, you simply won't believe your eyes.
And this, my friends, is cinema!
"Lumière d’été" is available on DVD via the stunning three-disc Criterion Collection "Eclipse Series 34: Jean Grémillon During The Occupation". If you are considering the idea of purchasing this set of great pictures, please do so directly from the links below which will assist greatly with the maintenance of this site:
Greg Klymkiw's review of "Remorques" can be read HERE.