Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1914) di Henri Duvernois. Scen.: Raymond Bernard. F.: Victor Arménise. Scgf.: Jean Perrier. Mus.: André Roubaud. Int.: Gaby Morlay (Ginette Gentilhomme), Line Noro (Céline Gentilhomme), Charles Vanel (André ‘Dédé’ Marco), Pierre Bertin (Frédéric Charençon), Florelle (Irène), Pauline Carton (zia Aurélie), Ketty Pierson (Louise ‘Loulou’), Antonin Artaud (Follestat). Prod.: Pathé-Natan. DCP. D.: 115’. Bn.
Like many established silent movie directors of his day, Raymond Bernard found himself at a crucial juncture in his career when he joined the Pathé Natan company in 1931: the time had come to develop a new kind of narrative, appropriate to sound cinema. Giving up his previous large-scale historical sagas, he turned to contemporary subject-matter in the shape of a novel by Henri Duvernois, entitled Faubourg Montmartre and published in 1914, which describes how two sisters plunge into the shady and perilous world of drugs and sex work. He gave the film a special atmosphere by experimenting with rigorous recording of sound effects, dialogue and music to create an intimate portrait of a working-class Paris neighbourhood.
Bernard was aware that sound would “diminish his role”. As he put it, “a word can now have as much impact or more than an image”. Yet he does not allow sound to become a constraint. He uses the noise of traffic astutely, captures the atmosphere of music halls and popular drinking-spots, as well as the crude slang of sex workers. Working with sound in this way was not easy in 1930, when microphones had only just arrived on ‘sound stages’.
Faubourg Montmartre is a comedy drama, full of fabulous numbers by Florelle, a leading music-hall chanteuse, and by the singer Frehel and Antonin Artaud in a luminous charivari of a scene. The cast of music-hall and theatre performers is remarkable.
Marcel Carné, then working as a critic, wrote in “Cinémagazine” (n. 1031-10) that this film was “a long-drawn-out cry of pity and love” adding that “though it ends on a hopeful note, it also contains moments of poignant emotion of the highest order and is exceptionally interesting overall”.