2 January 2012 | guy-bellinger
Stale stuff vs.great direction
Given its stale subject (the son of wealthy family elopes with the wife of a notary, thus shaming the family name) and its outdated morality (even if you make mistakes, being part of the possessors automatically makes you a respected person), "Les Roquevillard", made in the occupied France of 1943, should be just unwatchable. But not at all : seeing this film is in no way an ordeal. Credit for that goes to gifted (and still slightly underrated) director Jean Dréville, who manages to make the most of Charles Exbrayat's adaptation of Henry Bordeaux's old-fashioned novel. The weak point of "Les Roquevillard" is that its script retains the novelist's unreserved plea for great families and the ruling class. For, it has to be said, crying over those poor rich is a hard thing to do unless you belong to their cast. Nevertheless, there are a few good points in the screenplay such as the presence of two interesting characters, a malicious notary named Hector Frasne (played with cool conviction by Jacques Varennes) and Jeanne Sasseray, a fresh, vivacious and outspoken young lady ( performed with the required dose of snap by Simone Valère). It also contains some fine lines such as the one delivered by Simone Valère: "I've got to take advantage of my youth to be candid. I'll have all the time in the world to be false later on." But the real quality of "Les Roquevillard" lies in Jean Dréville's artistic choices. The images of his film are really beautiful: fine framing, discreet but efficient camera movements, carefully crafted shots, magnificent lighting based on interplay between light and shadow. On the other hand, he is a good actor director, getting a great actor performance from Charles Vanel (much more restrained than usual) and a passable one from small-time thespians by the name of Jean Pâqui or Raymond Galle. The only really unsatisfactory interpretation surprisingly comes from the usually dependable Fernand Charpin, really ridiculous as a highly improbable Italian sculptor. His Marseilles accent really won't do! All in all, for all its shortcomings, "Les Roquevillard" is a globally good movie whereas in other hands than Jean Dréville's, it could have been an awful turkey. Some kind of a feat, in a way.