F.: Georges Périnal. Mo.: Jean Grémillon. Prod.: Service d’Information Documentaire par le Film 35mm. L.: 288 m. D.: 13’ a 20 f/s. Bn.
Chartres is the first short film by Jean Grémillon, shot with Georges Perinal’s contribution as director of photography. Produced in 1923 by SIDF (Service d’Information Documentaire par le Film), it is a ten-minute review of the beauty of Chartres’ thirteenth century gothic cathedral, the city itself, and the surrounding scenery. The film begins by revealing the perfectly formed cathedral that rises out of the Beauce valley. The camera then pans over the main body of the church, crossing the portals, caressing its façade and the sculptures that adorn it, focusing on the angel crowning the column, while the commentary, with some poetic license, states: “It’s hard to decide what to admire more… the long vertical lines that travel across the sky…” that is, the pillars and the columns that reach skywards, “or the universal anguish transmitted by figurative representations”, referring to the bas-reliefs of the bearded saints carved into the façade, their faces emaciated by spiritual suffering, “or the austere magnificence of the architectural symbolism”, the imposing and elegant shape of the gothic cathedral with its commanding presence, “or the silence and the quiet that emanates from the stained glass windows”. The camera then enters the cathedral and lingers on the design of the stained glass windows and the playful contrasts of outdoor and indoor lighting. Next, the film portrays the small world that surrounds the building, and we can see the old bishop’s palace, once home to the confessors for the French queens, and old houses that overlook streets and alleys. The final camera take enters an old building with scenes of everyday life – a woman drawing water in a pail from a fountain, housewives washing clothes – the camera then moves to the memorials to the city’s fallen heroes, and closes with a short stroll through the twists and turns of ‘low’ Chartres illustrating the “serene tranquility of old cities”.