Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Port of Shadows (1938)

This is one grim film. True, it's a seductive and easy watch, healthily leavened with mordant wit ("You have to kill someone." "That's life!"). Marcel Carne's direction is graceful and careful, and he almost makes us believe that the sucker-punch to the gut that we're expecting may not show up after all. But his story about a deserter who comes to town and runs afoul of the local toughs is infused with such a resigned fatalism that there's no way a happy ending could be at the end of the line. There's a lot of talk of dreams and hopes (one character repeats a constant desire to sleep on white sheets), but for the most part they remain just that -- dreams. Life here constantly gets in the way of dreams. Even being a generally good guy, which Jean Gabin is, won't protect you forever. Which brings me to the little dog. The little dog is not only the happiest (indeed, the only happy) character in the film, he's a reminder of karma. Note that Gabin (who is, by the way, completely fucking awesome) obtains the dog after saving it from being run over by a heartless truck driver. As long as the dog is in his presence, he's invincible. But good karma runs out eventually, and the (moral?) fog overtakes those who least suspect it. At one point a character asks, "Do you love life? Does life love you?" which is the essence of noir right there: It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done, if life has it in for you, you're done. Gabin's gruff kindness helps him out for a while, but he's walking in a dead man's shoes (literally). This, my friends, is the birth of noir. Love it.

Grade: B+


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