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  • Made at the time when the Popular Front was about to happen,"la belle équipe" perfectly captured the thirties zeitgeist.This was a very optimistic time,and no one could have forecast what would occur in the years to come:1936 Summer saw the first paid vacations .

    Jean Gabin was THE French actor of this era,the one who embodied almost everything the audience was dreaming of.Here he plays an employed man,who,with five mates ,wins on the raffle :they decide to buy a guinguette (a café on the banks of the Seine river where you can drink wine and dance).The guinguettes have now completely disappeared in France but it must have been many a Parisian's dream at least till early sixties:just hear the song Gabin sings (he's not dubbed,he used to cut records all along his acting career)telling about fun "quand on s'promène au bord de l'eau" (when go for a stroll along the riverside).There's an almost identical sung sequence in "sous le ciel de Paris"(1952).The guinguettes are part of the past French cinema:Jean Renoir's "une partie de campagne" described them as if he were a painter;ditto the beginning of Jacques Becker's masterpiece "Casque d'or"(1952)which magnificently captured their atmosphere.In "voici le temps des assassins" (1956),his film noir extraordinaire,Duvivier showed a darker side of the guinguettes .

    This dark side is already present in "la belle équipe" .Leftish French critics said that the optimistic ending (the team succeeds)was released in the popular theaters ,and the doomed one(the team fails) was shown in chic ones .Modern historians generally do not agree.Duvivier's choice was certainly the pessimist conclusion:it could not be any other way when you know his work,one of the most somber of the French cinema. It must have been filmed first,then the producers asked him to sweeten the screenplay:they were not completely wrong,on account of the historical background.Nowadays,French TV show the two endings in a row.

    "La belle équipe" is brimming with camaraderie,joie de vivre and vie en rose.With its happy end ,it's a true oasis,a truce before the flood.Subsequent works such as "carnet de bal" and "la fin du jour" will blight all hopes.
  • One for nostalgia buffs. One of a handful of movies that epitomise French cinema in the thirties. Gabin, Charles Vanel and Viviane Romance proved durable, indeed, Romance was something of a French Jeanne Crain/Linda Darnell in the forties while Vanel scored heavily in La Salaire du Peur and Les Diaboliques. Gabin, of course, proved most durable and iconic; this was made around the time of Pepe Le Moko and still to come were Quai des Brumes, Le jour se leve, and then the great post-war stuff, Touchez pas au grisbi, Le Chat, La Traversee de Paris,etc. First and last this is a Depression movie, made and released in the heart of the international slump. But it's also about comaraderie, how strong it is yet how fragile. When they don't have change of a match the 5 friends ARE strong but once they hit the numbers on the National Lottery it all begins to crumble from the inside. It's a curious mixture of the lyrical - the pastoral scenes along the Marne that would be echoed in Casque d'Or, the sentimental songs, and Gabin in full throat is something to hear - and the pragmatic - money corrupts and frailty, thy name is woman - but against the odds it works. Duvivier doesn't get too much attention today yet he remains a key player in French cinema.
  • I am adding to this commentary in June 2016 to point out to any fans of this film that, almost unbelievably after waiting such a long time, it is now actually available in France (since June 1st) on Blu-ray and DVD. This is an issue by Pathé, together with certain others of Duvivier's films and notably the (in)famous "Voici Le Temps Des Assassins". The set comprises a Blu-ray (Zones A B C) plus a DVD (Zone 2 - Europe Only), the film has been remastered and is with French Language Audio AND a choice of French or English Subtitles). This should bring a lot of pleasure to a lot of people who have been awaiting this reissue for many years : shot in 1936 on the Banks of The Marne river some 5 miles from Paris, La Belle Equipe constituted a milestone in French Cinema. Coinciding with the advent of the " Front Populaire ", the film is today remembered for the scenes in the guinguette and the beautiful valse musette " Quand on s'promène au bord de l'eau " sung by actor Jean Gabin and accompanied by roving accordionist Albert Deprince. The film is about a group of factory workers who win the lottery and club together to construct a guingette ( dance hall ) on the banks of the Marne between Nogent and Joinville. All starts well but quarrels develop and women get in the way ! There are in fact two endings, a happy one reluctantly made by director Duvivier to please the public,and a pessimistic one which was the director's own personal choice. For some strange reason the pessimistic ending is always subtitled in German !!! The new issue of the film includes both the pessimistic and the optimistic endings.You may visit today by riverboat the area where the film was shot and until a few years ago could see the actual remains of the "guinguette" built specially for the film !!
  • Grégory9 April 1999
    Absolute classic masterpiece. Julien Duvivier's usual thematic (everyone's bad) is here, but stronger and faster. I have seen the two ends - optimist (not very interesting) and pessimist (very hard to find, with german undertitle, but it was the one that Duvivier wants) and the second one broke all my hopes in human race. You must absolutely find the second one, a message from an old time when french cinema was the best in the world.
  • La belle equipe or They Were Five is often praised as the highest achievement of Julien Duvivier. It's French poetic realism at its finest - a style whose most remembered representatives are: L'Atalante (1934) by Jean Vigo and Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion (1937). When Charles Spaak had just finished the screenplay of La belle equipe the master Jean Renoir got actually very interested in it and wanted to film it, but Julien Duvivier had already bought the rights for it. One can't help but wonder how different the film might have been if Renoir would've filmed it. At least it would've gained much more reputation, but no one can no whether it would have been better, because Duvivier was a very talented filmmaker as well. La belle equipe represents the French optimism (1935-36), it's also a true national film and an interesting contemporary description of the working class.

    A group of five penniless workers wander around the streets of Paris. They live in a lousy block of flats, whose landlord put the light out immediately by 9 pm. One night when they are playing cards in the darkness, a pleasant message arrives: they've just won 100, 000 Francs with the lottery. After a quick enthusiasm they realize that the amount won't last through their whole life: so they decide to buy and reconstruct a small resort out of town. Eventually wealth and fortune start to rip the group apart and unpredictable events begin to occur.

    Julien Duvivier first shows the miserable life of the workers: he shows them hanging in the streets, leaning on dirty walls and hiding from cops. The happy twist seems quite surreal, but the series of events it occurs is far more interesting. As I mentioned above the film represents the optimism in France during that time: is it possible for the working class to go and work on their own outside of the society? It's quite hard to know what Duvivier thought himself because he filmed two different endings: a pessimist ending for the bourgeoisie and an optimist one for the working class, which is far more well known and often the ending distributed in Europe.

    No matter what Duvivier himself thought, - is it possible in this society for the working class to stand up and do what they've dreamed of, La belle equipe is a poetic description of its time. It beautifully exhales the optimism of the short era in France before the WWII, which Jean Renoir tried to prevent with his poetic masterpiece La Grande Illusion. La belle equipe is a true national film.