Between 1936 and 1946, Marcel Carné was among
the chief proponents of poetic realism, a studio-bound
film style that combined theatrical themes with elaborate
dialogues which depicted ordinary people attempting
to contend with the unalterable nature of destiny. The
shadowy fatalism of poetic realism presaged the more
popular American film noir. Though the style was created
by Jacques Feyder, with whom Carné apprenticed,
it was Carné and poet/screenwriter Jacques Prévert
who brought it to its full fruition with Enfants du
Paradise (Children of Paradise) (1945), a work still
considered one of France's greatest films.
Born and raised in Montmarte, Carné was originally
slated to work for an insurance agency by his father,
a cabinetmaker. Carné, however, was more interested
in movies and secretly attended evening classes on cinematography
with the Paris city council-sponsored Association Philomantique.
Without telling his father, Carné left the agency
in 1928 to work as an assistant cameraman for Feyder's
Les Noveaux Messieurs (1928). He next filmed Richard
Oswald's Cagilostro (1929). After winning a Cinémagazine
contest for amateur film criticism, Carné became
a staff critic for the periodical from 1929 to 1933.
He also occasionally wrote for Cinémonde often
using the penname Albert Cranche.
Just prior to becoming a writer,
Carné had begun work on his debut film, Nogent,
Eldorado du Dimanche (Nogent, the Sunday Eldorado) (1929).
This documentary was a silent chronicle of working-class
people enjoying a peaceful Sunday afternoon. He next
worked as an assistant director for Rene Clair on Sous
les Toits de Paris (1930). He gained further experience
in filmmaking when he directed a series of advertising
shorts with animator Paul Grimault and writer Jean Aurenche.
For a short time, Carné edited the weekly Hebdo-film.
By 1933, Carné had tired
of simply reviewing films and became Feyder's permanent
assistant director, working on some of Feyder's best
films, including Le Grand Jeu (1934) and La Kermesse
Héroique (1935). It was Feyder who provided Carné
his feature film directorial debut with Jenny (1936).
Starring Feyder's wife Francoise Rosay, the story was
melodramatic, but it was set apart by Carné's
creation of a dark, misty urban setting. Showing an
unusual rapport with his actors, Carné drew forth
strong, poetic performances from each cast member. When
the Nazis invaded France during WWII, most of the country's
best filmmakers fled the country, but Carné remained
and it was during this time that he did his best work.
Carné's next three films
showcased the talents of his production team, including
Alexandre Trauner, cameramen Eugen Schufftan, Curt Courant,
and composers Maurice Jaubert and Joseph Kosma. Perhaps
the most important member of Carné's team was
screenwriter Prévert. Some of their best collaborations
include Les Visiteurs du Soir (The Devil's Envoys) (1942),
an allegory of Nazi occupation thinly veiled by the
story of a medieval French tale, Port of Shadows, and
Begun shortly before the liberation
of France, Les Enfants du Paradise was the first to
be distributed in postwar France. It proved to be the
apex of their collaboration. Prévert's and Carné's
next film, Les Portes de la Nuit (1946), proved a box-office
flop. But while making La Fleur de l'Age (1949), he
and Prévert had a falling-out over budgetary
matters. The film was never completed and the two never
worked together again.
Though he was only in his forties
during the early '50s, Carné's career was drawing
painfully to an end. For this was the dawn of Nouvelle
Vague, a movement influenced by American film noir,
gangster films, Italian neorealism (though not as Spartan
in execution), and the work of Jean Renoir. The new
breed of directors relied heavily on exterior and location
filming, rejecting Carné's studio-bound films,
calling them artificial and static. Carné responded
with his indictment of the younger generation in Les
Tricheurs (The Cheaters) (1958); unfortunately, the
film, though commercially successful, failed to capture
the attention of the younger critics and directors who
dismissed it as an old-fashioned exposé.
From this point onward, Carné
would be relegated to making mediocre films for the
rest of his career, though in the early '70s there was
a resurgence of acclaim for Les Enfants du Paradise.
Of his post 1950s films, his only relative success was
Trois Chambre a Manhattan (Three Rooms in Manhattan)
(1965), an adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel. His
last feature film, La Merveilleuse Visite (1974), was
a lifeless fantasy that was so poorly received, Carné
was forced to retire because no one in France would
finance his future projects. Carné died in the
Paris suburb of Clamart on Halloween 1996, at the age
From - - Sandra Brennan, All