20 December 2005 | dbdumonteil
Down in the gutter
The international title is "the stream" but it's a mistranslation;"le ruisseau" means here "the gutter" where all the bad gals finally end :needless to say ,we deal with melodrama in all its splendor.
But good melodrama.I had seen the movie about ten years ago,and I watched it again yesterday with the same pleasure.Lehmann was working with the young Autant-Lara at the time:they produced at least one memorable flick:the hilarious "fric frac" and its marvelous actors Fernandel,Arletty and Michel Simon.
Michel Simon,one of the five best actors France ever had,is also part of the cast of "le Ruisseau" ;other actors include Françoise Rosay ,playing an over possessive mother (a part tailor-made for her:see Feyder's "Pension Mimosas" ),Ginette Leclerc (famous for her bad gals part ;here she nevertheless plays a big-hearted whore)and Gaby Silvia (a sensitive delicate actress who never got the parts she deserved on the silver screen and had to be a stage actor ;her best part was in Jacqueline Audry's "Huis Clos" in which she was not overshadowed by Arletty,quite a feat!) Girl escaping from orphanage takes refuge on a boat where she meets handsome young officer:love at first sight.The boy having to stay on his ship for a long voyage tells his friend to go and see his mum ,a famous chanteuse who lives in Paris.Alas,the Lady is not prepared to accept it:his dear son deserves better than an orphan girl and she turns her in to the Police.This singer,who got a raw deal during her youth (she was an unmarried mother) wants to marry a count (de Bourgogne!) short of the readies and that this aristocrat legally recognizes her offspring ! Autant-Lara's disgust for social conventions (which would come to the fore with such works as "Douce" and " le Diable au Corps") can already be felt here.The melodrama sometimes turns into a farce when the fabulous Michel Simon,the fallen aristocrat (his nickname is "L'Escargot" =the Snail cause BOurgogne (Burgundy) is famous for its snails in gastronomy)who almost looks like a tramp mumbles "in my arms ,my son!" .Even the happy end leaves a bitter taste in the mouth:the chanteuse finally lets the lovers do what they want because it aids her career,her ambitions.
It was 1938:note that the young officer after asking the stowaway "Parlez-vous Français?" repeats his sentence in English,Spanish ,Italian,but NOT in German!We find a subject which was dear to the "Realisme Poetique" of that glorious hour :the islands in the sun which the boy paints in glowing colors to the girl.The soundtrack ironically includes snatches of the old traditional French song "Il était un Petit Navire" (="Once there was a little ship which had never sailed away,Ohé Ohé!)