People of No Importance (1955)

19 04 2008

Not quite as gritty or accomplished as Jean Gabin’s cinematic collaborations with Marcel Carné and Jean Renoir, but still a fine film nonetheless. Certainly the theatrical setting dates the film considerably but it is still far more subdued and downbeat than Renoir or Carné’s work. In a way, one could argue that it is more cinematically advanced, perhaps even a precursor to Antonioni’s cinema. In fact, there’s a lot of things that will remind one of Antonioni’s Il Grido, which came out two years later. Just like in that film, this is ultimately a bit too tragically structured to be an overwhelmingly deep experience. Still, it is a very fine film and Gabin is, as always, amazing.

On Christmas Eve, two exhausted truck drivers take a break from their long trip at a local diner. They want and need sleep, but the diner manager is a far more festive mood. He keeps them up, and Jean, the older of the two drivers, falls for the waitress, Clo. Despite the short introduction, they become acquainted. Jean comes back home to a trouble home life. His wife is constantly nagging, and his teenage daughter drives him crazy with her ambitious dream of becoming an actress. The only thing that keeps him going is his two younger sons, and the short meetings he has with Clo. Eventually, their affair hits a roadblock and Clo simply needs more than five-minute meetings. The two plan to run away together and eventually, succeed but this leads to another problem.

Time doesn’t seem to slow down Gabin at all; he’s just as charming here as he is in his earlier performance. I’ll admit that the similarities to Angelopolous’ The Beekeeper (lonely old guy falling in love with a younger, more energetic women) does set some high standards. Of course, this film isn’t really in the same ballpark but it is somewhat of a precursor to Angelopolous, as well as to Antonioni, as previously mentioned. There’s nothing technically extravagant, but Verneuil does craft his film with a very subdued style which does lend some the film some of its funniest moments.

Perhaps I’ve watched one too many “classic” French films in the past couple of weeks, but I have to admit that I am getting tired of the convention that something really bad has to happen. In all of these films, it seems that the main character struggles, overcomes said struggle, and then ends up in an even more tragic scenario. The exception to this rule is Carné’s Daybreak, which seems to get bleaker and bleaker with each passing moment. I’ve said it before, but I really think it is Gabin that makes these films relevant. Without him, they’d be contrived and silly. This film is all of that but of course, the performances do lend a depth that may not have even been intended. A tragic love story that almost accidentally has something profound to say, but still it is a very good film.