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.
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