16 May 2011 | lor_
Entertaining but downbeat
My esteemed French colleague & expert M. Monteil is exactly right about Yves Allegret's 4 classic films, of which the Gérard Philipe picture UNE SI JOLIE PETITE PLAGE is in my Top 10 favorite movies of all time. But this latter effort is also enjoyable for those (like me) addicted to pessimistic French fare.
A 1960 art-house release here in America, I was fortunate to finally see it through the auspices of Alain, perhaps the most comprehensive DVD collector going.
Hang-dog expressive Daniel Gélin is perfectly cast in the world-weary central role, a WW II survivor who heads to Hamburg for a bender with two of his French buddies, clutching a 1943 photo of a pretty German girl who was kind to him. He bears her tiny white brooch as a souvenir.
He meets her accidentally in her post-war guise of a mud-wrestler, performing nightly at a German restaurant where patrons wear huge bibs/tarpaulins to protect them from the spray during the show's antics. Gélin, like a bridesmaid, is the "lucky guy" thrown a sponge to wipe the mud off her bikini-clad body post-match, but is unrealistically disheartened that she doesn't remember him after a decade has passed (and who knows how many traumas & travails she has experienced in the interim).
Hildegarde Knef runs with the central role -an amazing beauty who director Allégret quite obviously patterns (down to her short hairdo) to emulate his great star Simone Signoret (whom he piloted in one of her best roles as Dédée d'Anvers).
For me the teaming of Knef and Gélin was a satisfying romantic throwback to the great '30s and '40s movies, though more down-to-earth than say the idealized casts typified by Madeleine Sologne/Jean Marais of THE ETERNAL RETURN. This is clearly not cinema of the quality of Gélin's best picture, Becker's RENDEZ-VOUS DE JUILLET, but I enjoyed it.
The duo carries the film surely on their backs, falling in love again, but with fate (natch) throwing them a tragic curve. The lethal gimmick injected in the final reel I won't reveal but it was awkwardly set up and delivered in otherwise a fine, convincing little narrative.
The authentic, neo-realist scenes of Hamburg harbor are well-shot by master Armand Thirard, and fit in nicely with the studio-bound interiors and fake streets of the Red Light District. Allegret's direction is earthy but tasteful, a far cry from the rewarding porn of the film's producer and story concocter, the great sex-meister José Bénazéraf.