Julien Duvivier – Sous le ciel de Paris AKA Under the Sky of Paris (1951)

Fates of multiple otherwise disconnected characters intertwine miraculously under the sky of Paris. And it all happens in one day.

Ah, Paris! City of rich and mellow beauties! City of romance and mystery! City of wisdom, indulgence echoing footsteps—where lives mingle and flow in a restless, endless stream! . . . This is the concept of the city that Julien Duvivier rather fervidly expounds in his cross-section, multi-character French film, “Under the Paris Sky,” which brought back the flavor of La Belle France to the Paris Theatre yesterday.

Don’t be disturbed by the prospect of one of those dawn-to-mid-night things, “revealing the heart of a city,” such as used to fascinate the Europeans. Despite its heavy weighting on the side of a thematic cliché, this effort is fortunately balanced with ample imagination and cinema style. And although it does run a bit strongly toward a purple poetic attitude, especially in its English narration, which Duncan Elliott speaks in reverential tones, it is sharply realistic in its substance and in its Parisian pictorial detail.

Mr. Duvivier is nobody’s tyro at handling a drama with numerous threads. Witness his “Pepe le Moko,” “Un Carnet de Bal” and “The End of a Day.” Neither is he unaccomplished at creating atmosphere and mood. His camera seems blessed with the additional senses of touch and smell. And it is in an abundance and variety of sensuous stimuli that this ever-intriguing panorama of Parisian life is distinct.

Making a routine departure with the misty break of day above the rooftops of Paris, Mr. Duvivier doesn’t waste much time in getting his people assembled for this crisscrossed tapestry. There’s the old lady who lives in a garret, where she keeps a veritable herd of hungry cats, and spends her day wandering the city trying to beg some money to buy them food. There’s the young daughter of the vegetable merchant who goes for a boat ride on the Seine with a playmate of fanciful disposition and is casually abandoned by him. There is also a crippled sculptor who likes to cut ladies’ throats and there’s a middle-aged factory worker who cannot attend his own wedding anniversary because of a sit-down strike.

Most notable, however, are a young fellow who must pass his medical school exams in order to become a surgeon, the beautiful dress model who is in love with him and a girl friend of the model who comes to Paris in search of fortune, love and fame. In the course of one day, all of them have adventures of a highly critical sort.

Neither does Mr. Duvivier, who wrote and directed the film, allow time to waste or hang heavy at any point in the weaving of his tale. Using a style of fast cutting, which eliminates laps and dissolves, he moves from one story to another—and back and forth—without the usual movie punctuation marks. All of his little plots and people flow together through this narrative technique and eventually become associated in a full network of coincidences at the end. It is a style that is baffling at the outset but soon becomes clear and interesting.

Being inclined toward morbid details, Mr. Duvivier has sprinkled his film with starkly arresting intrusions, such as a dead body floating in the Seine, a hospital tour with medical students and a glimpse of the sculptor’s crippled hand. His most shocking detail, however, is an operation upon a human heart, with the live tissue of that throbbing organ exposed to the camera’s close-up view. Such details are not merely shockers. They have distinct and constructive dramatic point—as, for instance, the heart operation symbolizes the very beat of the city’s life and provides, as well, a climax for the most suspenseful drama in the film.

Withal, the wonderful vistas of Paris, in which the picture abounds; the musical score of Jean Wiener, which is brilliant and expressive in every way, and the excellent performances of the actors continually intrigue. Daniel Ivernel as the medical student. Christiane Lenier as his girl, Brigitte Auber as the new arrival, Sylvie as the aged keeper of the cats and Jean Brochard as the hard-pressed factory worker are among the best of the lot.

Mr. Duvivier’s picture is feverish and romantic, it is true, but it offers a fascinating side tour of the great city that lies wrapped in the arms of the Seine.

Also on the screen at the Paris is a placid, slightly wistful color short, “Ballet by Degas,” which examines some of that French painter’s more familiar works—his poised and fluid ballet dancers, shimmering in tints of pink and blue.

1.63GB | 1 h 52 min | 762×572 | mkv



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