One rainy night, a stranger arrives in a nondescript seaside town and checks into a cheap hotel. All that is known about him is his name – Pierre – and everyone he meets is suspicious of him. He appears to know the area well; he looks to be in good health. But why is he here? Why is he so sad? The answers emerge when another man appears on the scene, an acquaintance of Pierre who knows the crime that he has committed and who intends to use the information to his own advantage…
Director Yves Allégret and screenwriter Jacques Sigurd followed their successful Dédée d’Anvers (1948) with this bleak noir melodrama featuring rising star Gérard Philipe. It is a film that is characteristic of its time – grim, hopelessly pessimistic yet still offering a glimmer of hope for the future. Whilst the film reflected the post-war mood well, it was not a great success with the French public. By 1949, poetic realism was well and truly dépassé. The film’s commercial failure belies the fact that this is easily amongst Yves Allégret’s better works, even if it has been virtually forgotten.
The noirish photography, the claustrophobic interiors and barren exteriors – these all contribute to the sense of alienation, failure and abandon that drive the story’s hero to his inescapable doom. Less convincing are some of the social comments the film makes concerning parentless children growing up in the care of the state. Should it make any difference whether Pierre was such a child or not? The film would probably have functioned better if the scriptwriter hadn’t used this as an easy “rationale” for hero’s failure. How much more poignant would the story have been if Pierre had had a normal childhood, even that of “Poil de Carotte”, rather than being lazily branded with the stigma of a “state-adopted infant”.
After his appearance in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Diable au corps (1946) Gérard Philipe looked destined to become one of the most popular film stars in France. His suitability for rich character parts is well illustrated in Une si jolie petite plage, in which his portrayal of a man heading for self-destruction is harrowingly convincing. It would be ludicrous to suggest that the actor had some fore-knowledge of his own tragic future (he would be dead within a decade of this film’s release), but you can’t help noticing a cold shadow of doom enveloping the actor in so many of his films.
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