Raymond Bernard's best movies were made in the thirties ("Les Croix De Bois" "Les Miserables" ) ,but there are great works still waiting to be found later.In the silent period ,Bernard had already directed "Le Miracle Des Loups" ,a swashbuckler which took place in the late Middle Ages .
An escape movie,which sometimes recall those which were made during the Occupation,this one enjoys a bigger budget ,and it shows: lush settings,lots of extras and a dazzling cinematography by Roger Hubert: take the scene when Andrée Debar is praying in the church and ,feeling guilt,she is seeing things,pagan monsters seem to have invaded the house of God;Agnes's long walk to death on a dreary endless plain,when the only sound you hear is a sinister drum roll (a sequence to rival some of the best of Dreyer or Bergman);the banquet in Gabrielle Dorziat 's castle,which is very unusual,closer to an orgy than to a romantic meal celebrating victories;the troops moving in a misty forest;the final where all you can see is ripples after the lovers 'drowning.
The screenplay is particularly rich ,mixing politics (the prince has got to marry an ugly girl -reasons of state - but his father suggests he keep his love as a discreet mistress),intolerance (hint at Joan of Ark,witch hunt , a very clever priest who does not even need torture to achieve his aims), fairytale snatches and swashbuckler permanent features : battles,tournament and humor (the prince's friend who's got an impressive collection of fake golden rings with " forever my love" written on it which he gives to all the girls he seduces ).
The cast is first-class:Gabrielle Dorziat shines in her part of a dowager who rebels against her brother and who acts like a man ;it's rare to see a middle -age lady display such an energy!Pierre Renoir is the villain father who never cracks a smile.Jean-Claude Pascal was one of the romantic young leads of the era :too bad he should have ended his career with a part of an eunuch ("Angelique Et Le Sultan") after displaying so much panache.The choice of Andrée Debar may seem bizarre for she was probably the most mysterious actress of the fifties: her androgynous face is not probably what we expect for a romantic passionate girl.But after a while ,she compels recognition because of her qualities which were remarkable: her last scenes demand a certain ambiguousness and Debar was up to scratch.
"Le Jugement De Dieu" is definitively a must for anyone interested in the old French cinema .It was remade as a segment of "Les Amours Celebres" ,but in spite of an impressive cast,it can't hold a candle to Bernard's version:Brigitte Bardot was not well cast as a romantic girl (being much too sexy)and Alain Delon's playing was cardboard .Changes were made and not for the best: the guy who gave rings to his conquests became a gay (Jean-Claude Brialy) and Suzanne Flon taking on Dorziat's lady warrior was closer to the fairy godmother .
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Les Visiteurs Du Soir,Marcel Carné,1942 L'Eternel Retour,Jean Delannoy/Jean Cocteau,1943 Singoalla ,Christian-Jaque,1949
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