15 February 2006 | dbdumonteil
François Truffaut's protégé directed by Julien Duvivier!I was skeptical about it.I really hate Leaud's acting which represents for me the worst of the French cinema,the so called works reserved for the elite ,the likes of Godard and Rivette.
I've got to make amends:Jean-Pierre Léaud -who had just made "les 400 coups" - manages to stay very natural,very convincing ,nothing of the affected acting which would be his late sixties trademark.Léaud got a raw deal during his childhood ,they say, and we can feel it every step of the way along the "boulevard".
The simple nature of "Boulevard" may mean that some viewers will pass it over quickly -or dismiss it as a "400 coups" remake- since it's a grower ,but spend some time with it and it becomes clear that it's really Duvivier's world ,a world that existed long before Truffaut began to work.
"Boulevard" depicts a colorful microcosm:that of Montmartre/Pigalle fifty years ago.But what lies beneath is Duvivier's noir philosophy :Man is evil,period.The best scenes are the ones which take place on the roofs near a huge neon sign;from a distance,when the Sacré Coeur is lit up at night,the young hero is full of hope ;but when he knows the other side of the picture ,that is to say when he's got to live in a world made by man,it's another story.
With the exception of the two gay artists -and the scene when Leaud poses for them as Narcissus is worth the price of admission-,the hero is searching someone he can put his trust in: The boxer(Pierre Mondy)is a washout more pitiful than really perverse .Just hear Leaud scream "Tocard!Tocard!Tocard! " (=dead loss!) The two female characters :the bitch (Magali Noel) and the pure young wop girl ,they are all much of a muchness.
And finally the father:he left his son when he got married again.Duvivier's genius shines in the sequence where a desperate Leaud comes to his father's place and begs for some Francs.Duvivier needs only one shot to depict the stepmother:behind her till,she resembles Germaine Kerjean in "Voici le Temps des Assassins" (1956),Duvivier's latter days' masterpiece.
SPOILER:the final on the roofs with Leaud destroying the neon sign and the father coming to his rescue is a faux happy end:when the picture fades to black , you can hear both of them laugh, a sinister laugh over Jean -Claude Pascal's melancholy song .
NB :In "le Diable et les dix Commandements " ,the segment starring Alain Delon,Madeleine Robinson and Danielle Darrieux would come back to childhood tragedy.