René Clément – Monsieur Ripois aka Knave of hearts (1954)

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The Italian neo-realist influence that is so evident in René Clément’s Oscar-winning 1949 film Au-delà des grilles is also felt in this quirky romantic comedy, through its use of real locations (mostly in the bustling centre of London) and fluid, documentary-style photography. Along with some of his contemporaries (notably Georges Franju and Jean-Pierre Melville) René Clément had started to trail-blaze a new kind of cinema, departing from the conventions of the quality tradition that had grown stale and predictable by the early 1950s, and laying the groundwork for the French New Wave. If you did not know that Clément had directed Monsieur Ripois, you might easily mistake it for an early offering from one of the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers – Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette, Louis Malle or François Truffaut.

Monsieur Ripois was a rare Anglo-French production, filmed at Elstree studios and various locations in and around London. Its cast includes several notable British actors (Valerie Hobson, Joan Greenwood) – all of whom speak remarkably good French. The film afforded Gérard Philipe, then one of France’s leading stage and film actors, one of his finest screen roles, that of the sympathetic philanderer André Ripois. There is a modernity and realism to Philipe’s performance which adds to the film’s striking New Wave feel; such is the spontaneity and energy he brings to the film that you could swear he was improvising much of his dialogue, adopting a style of acting (expressively naturalistic) that was rare in cinema at the time but which would become de rigueur in French cinema within a decade, particularly amongst the New Wave filmmakers. Philipe himself considered this his best role – it is certainly one of his most entertaining and memorable.

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Monsieur Ripois is just one of the many films made by René Clément that earned the director widespread critical acclaim and added to his virtually unmatched collection of prestige awards. Having won the Best Director award at Cannes for La Bataille du rail (1946) and Au-delà des grilles (1949), Clément picked up the Jury Special Prize for this film (as well as a nomination for the Grand Prize) at the same festival in 1954. Made between two of Clément’s best films, Jeux interdits (1952) and Gervaise (1956), Monsieur Ripois is all too easily overlooked but deserves to be considered one of his major achievements, if only because it so evidently presages the revolution in filmmaking technique and style that was just around the corner.

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Language:mostly french – bits of english
Subs:English

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