22 March 2008 | dbdumonteil
Jean Valjean comes alive.
This is the strangest film Gremillon made .Its soundtrack is absolutely bewildering:during the cast and credits ,some kind of "exotic" song is heard the words of which are difficult to understand ,even for a French.Two lines come back as a sinister leitmotiv (Il Voulait Une Femme et Il Vola =He wanted a woman and he stole);then in the horrifying penal colony of Cayenne ,at night,the convicts break into a "Ferme Tes Yeux Bleus =Close your blue eyes";the ending ,which is one of the saddest ,the most depressing I know features a South American like black musicians orchestra.
A convict comes back to his dear France and to his dear daughter,"La Petite Lise" to be confronted with tragedy.When he was away ,Lise became a prostitute (the word is never uttered),but is about to redeem her soul thanks to her boyfriend' s heartfelt love.But they need 3000 Francs to buy a garage in the country and to start a brand new life (sounds like the words to an Edith Piaf song;actually the whole films sounds like a Piaf song even if the chanteuse was about 16 when it was made) The two young actors's playing seems old-fashioned today ,and only Alcover's performance can touch today's audience.But he is deeply moving as a father who gave it all and did it again .But if you were a father ,wouldn't you do the same?
An objection remains: the way the script writers depict the Jew is ,par excellence ,the cliché:of course,he is a pawnbroker,stingy,deceitful,unkind ,spineless.This is not the only movie where the Jews are demeaned.
"La Petite Lise" is Gremillon's third feature film after "Maldone" and "Gardiens De Phare" (where a lighthouse keeper ,bitten by a rabid dog,threatens his father who kills him:Pasteur,where were you?)