Public Affairs (1934)

  |  Short, Comedy


Public Affairs (1934) Poster

Bresson's first film is, totally uncharacteristically, a slapstick comedy, centred around two neighbouring republics, Crogandia and Miremia, and the various disasters that befall the ... See full summary »


5.8/10
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21 December 2011 | Bunuel1976
6
| PUBLIC AFFAIRS (Robert Bresson, 1934) **1/2
This film is pretty unique in the annals of cinema history, in that the efforts by the same director that came afterwards were such polar opposites that one can barely believe his eyes when watching it: the thing is that this 23-minute short was believed lost and only retrieved in 1987, when Bresson had effectively retired (being then 86 years old)…so that, to most movie buffs and admirers of the director, his debut proved to be the one they got to see last (in my case, it was the penultimate one, since I chose to watch this, A GENTLE WOMAN {1969}, and the documentary THE ROAD TO BRESSON {1984} on the 12th anniversary of his passing, just two weeks shy of the new millennium!).

Anyway, this is a satirical farce with political overtones, very much in the style of The Marx Bros. masterpiece DUCK SOUP (1933) – since it involves two neighboring fictionalized countries – and the ending, with two newscasters disapproving of an elderly high-society dame's singing by flinging objects at her, is a literal borrowing/tribute. The runaway princess subplot, then, may well have been inspired by the W.C. Fields vehicle YOU'RE TELLING ME! (1934), albeit emerging as its weakest link. Another obvious influence here is Charlie Chaplin – especially in the set-piece of the unveiling of a statue (which, depicting a yawning man, unleashes a veritable flood of boredom/exhaustion grimaces among the spectators of the ceremony and even the heroine, whose airplane summarily crashes!), but also the fact that a squad of firemen here behave as if they were The Keystone Kops.

In the end, the film is more a curio (if anything, it owes at least as much to Rene' Clair as it does the afore-mentioned Hollywood star comedians) than a success, but it undeniably boasts a handful of innovations and side-splitting moments: the sound of a tuba causes a house to move off its hinges, which is then brought back into place by a Pied Piper-ish flute player!; one of the firemen is a professional fire-eater, so that every time a spark is lit (as part of the town festivities), he rushes to extinguish the flame by gobbling it up!; finally, the climactic christening of a ship by the traditional breaking of a champagne bottle against its side proves problematic because of the incredible resilience of the glassware – someone has the bright idea of using a cannon to destroy the bottle but, first, the heaving of the evidently cumbersome weapon onto the platform almost brings the whole crashing down but, then, the blast naturally produces a hole in the vessel which, upon being slid into the sea, it promptly sinks!

For the record, the unearthed print of this one (which had actually been stored under a different title!) is in a rather precarious state, with the image so fuzzy that one can hardly make out the actors' facial features!; incidentally, future Jean Renoir regular and reliable Hollywood character actor Marcel Dalio appears in four separate roles here (including a Military General who, in order to have a medal pinned on his chest, it is required to shear off his lengthy beard!). So, while France may have lost a comic genius when Bresson returned to film-making 9 years later, World Cinema certainly gained one of its most rigorous analysts into the human condition (and the quest for spiritual grace).

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Storyline

Plot Summary


Genres

Short | Comedy

Details

Release Date:

August 1934

Language

French


Country of Origin

France

Filming Locations

France

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