24 July 2010 | dbdumonteil
The damned girl
"La Fille Du Diable" is the follow-up to "Je Suis Avec Toi" and it features the same lead ,Pierre Fresnay.Whereas the former is a pleasant forgettable little comedy,the latter is one of the greatest French films Noirs of the forties.It is as good as Decoin's "Non Coupable" and "La Verite Sur Bebe Donge" and its screenplay almost surpasses both of them.
Two disturbing scenes open the movie:first a shoot-out in the city : a gangster,Saget, is surrounded on all sides ;he finally escapes and it's a mad drive in a drunken man's car through a nightmarish country.Then the movie takes a divergent way and becomes a psychological thriller.
The gangster who's got a lot of dough takes refuge in his hometown.Enter a nice doctor (Fernand Ledoux)and a strange girl "the devil's daughter" (check the title),Isabelle.And then begins a feud which will involve the three of them.The three actors are prodigious.
The nice doctor seems to know too many things about Saget and begins to blackmail him.But it's not the kind of blackmail you see in your average thriller.He asks for a radiotherapy center cause "too many brats suffer from TB" ,he asks for good things ,which help the whole town.Ledoux's acting is so subtle we do not know if he's a saint or if he plays cat and mouse with his "victim".Unlike Clouzot's or Duvivier's worlds,his closest relatives as far as film noir is concerned, Decoin's is not completely black.
And there's Isabelle.This role is unique.No matter how much I search my memory,I cannot find a female part which can be compared to her.Once again it may recall some Duvivier's heroines ("Panique" or "Voici Le temps Des Assassins") but those women had motives ,love ,money.Isabelle is evil,period.Her father hung himself and she became the hanged man's daughter.The whole town is against her,she's outlawed from society.Her reason to live is not to get happiness back but to make sure that others won't be happy.She will never forgive the young Chatelaine who is respected by the whole community. With her Madonna face and her hair she puts in braids,she epitomizes the tragedy of the human condition.If boys fall in love with her,she uses them to harm her fellow creatures.Andrée Clément gives a spooky terrifying performance and why she did not become a famous actress after such a feat remains a mystery to me.
A shady relationship develops between the devil's daughter and Saget.She feels they have a lot in common and she too seems to know that this mysterious man is not what he seems .She would like him to be her partner in crime .She feels that they have a lot in common.
The final twist is stunning,as strong as Night Shyamalan 's "Unbreakable" which it recalls a little.And Decoin 's final is uncompromising: lose all your illusions,some people have not their place in the providential world where the chosen ones go to church on Sunday morning and sing canticles to praise the Lord.
A film that cannot be praised too highly.If by chance you can find it,do not think twice:it's the French black and white film noir at its best.
NB People interested in Andrée Clément's short career could have a look on the FRench site "Etoiles Filantes" ,a site devoted to the French actresses who were never big stars but sometimes were as impressive as the stars (and starlets).Clement's acting attracted Louis Jouvet's attention and he was the best teacher of his era (as well as one of the best actors)