One of my current pleasures is to discover more about french cinema in the early 30s and 40s, which even though they are extremely important when it comes to french film history, they are mostly films that have been forgotten since no one is able to either find them or simply watch them. With that, I’ve decided to share some of my favorites since I never see anyone talking about them and they are movies that should definitely be rediscovered or mention more on the internet. Here they are:
Ladies Lake (1934) by Marc Allégret
Based on the novel by Vicki Baum with dialogues by Colette, Ladies Lake is a beautiful and hypnotic love story set on the lakes of Austria and featuring the astonishing Jean-Pierre Aumont as a poor swim teacher who gets romantically involved with three different women. More than a love story, Ladies Lake has many characteristics of the french poetic realism by using the lake itself as a representation of dreams and desire, which with Marc Allégret’s poetic and homoerotic’s view makes this unknown pearl a must-watch for those who like films such as Bonjour Tristesse and Knife in the Water. You can watch this beauty on Youtube here.
They Were Five (1936) by Julien Duvivier
Mostly famous for Pépé le Moko and Panique, Julien Duvivier was one of the biggest names in the French film industry from the 1930s to the late 1960s. They Were Five, however, is the best film I’ve seen from the director so far. Featuring no one else than the incredible Jean Gabin, the story follows five poor friends who after winning the lottery, they decide to open a bar. However, as the construction of the site goes on, the five of them start to fight with each other, compromising the future of the bear. With great performances, script, and direction, They Were Five is an obligatory french classic.
Je t’attendrai (1939) by Léonide Moguy
Another movie with the handsome Jean-Pierre Aumont, Je t’attendrai is a very simple but powerful film. By telling the story of a soldier on duty who decides to visit his hometown while his train is repairing, the movie shows this soldier discovering a very different hometown from the one he left, dealing with many themes such as hope and memory by shining a light on the people who were left behind after the soldiers went to war. With an incredible cinematography, Léonide Moguy makes a beautiful study of characters with his elegant and authentic mise en scene, making Je t’attendrai in one of the most remarkable french films from that period. Not mentioning it dialogues a lot with Ballad of a Soldier.
Stormy Waters (1941) by Jean Grémillon
Even though Jean Grémillon seemed to have made several films in France from the late 1920s to the late 1950s, it’s very hard to find his movies available both on physical media and the internet. Stormy Waters, which is currently playing on the Criterion Channel, is probably his famous film. The story follows a sailor who is practically married to his job and ends up having to rescue a ship, where he meets a woman who he falls in love with. More than a love story, Stormy Waters is a beautiful tale with many poetic realism characteristics and outstanding visual effects for the time it was made. Not mentioning Jean Gabin’s performance.
Antoine and Antoinette (1947) by Jacques Becker
From a director that I absolutely love and that I definitely need to watch (and find) more of his films is Jacques Becker, director of many outstanding films such as The Lovers of Montparnasse, Le Trou, and Touchez Pas Au Grisbi. Antoine and Antoinette is one of his many hidden jams, which tells the story of two poor lovers who after winning the lottery, discover that they have lost the ticket to prove it. With that, Becker starts a thrilling chase featuring many personalities of the suburbs of Paris to find the ticket, resulting in a charismatic film about humanity and society.
Such a Pretty Little Beach (1949) by Yves Allégret
Featuring one of my favorite French actors of all times, Gérard Philipe, and being directed by the brother of Marc Allégret, Such a Pretty Little Beach is one of the best french movies I have ever seen. Telling the story of a man who decides to hide on the french riviera during winter, we follow the inhabitants of that city trying to discover what a Parisian man is doing there on that time of the year. When the radio starts to announce a wanted man for murder with similar descriptions as him, the people from the town start to get to know more about the stranger, starting a melancholic study of this guy’s identity. With an outstanding cinematography featuring both noir and poetic realism elements, Such a Pretty Little Beach is a beautiful film about fear, despair, and loneliness.
Therese Paquin (1953) by Marcel Carné
Probably one of the biggest names in french film history, Marcel Carné is responsible for nothing less than Children of Paradise, Le Jour Se Leve, and Port of Shadows. Despite having one film better than the other, Therese Paquin is one of his best unknown gems that people should definitely check it out. With a very noir-like story about a married woman falling in love for another man and deciding to kill her husband, Thérese Paquin excels exactly for Marcel Carné’s natural and poetic approach to love and the Parisian lifestyle, resulting in a must-watch noir film.
Symphony for a Massacre (1963) by Jacques Deray
And last but not least, Symphony for a Massacre is an outstanding noir film that could have easily been made by Jean-Pierre Melville. This film, however, was directed by another big name from the french industry, Jacques Deray, who directed La Piscine with Alain Delon. In this film, however, we follow a man who decides to steal the whole sum of a robbery he did with five other men, resulting in a thrilling and exciting film.