T. it.: La Bandera; Sog.: dal romanzo diPierre Mac Orlan; Scen.: Julien Duvivier, Charles Spaak, Pierre Mac Orlan (non accr.); F.: Jules Kruger, Marc Fossard; Mo.: Marthe Poncin; Scgf.: Jacques Krauss; Mu.: Jean Wiener, Roland Manuel; Su.: Georges Gérardot, Marcel Petiot (esterni); Int.: Jean Gabin (Pierre Gilieth), Annabella (Aicha laSlaoui), Robert Le Vigan (Fernando Lucas), Pierre Renoir (il capitano Weller), Gaston Modot (soldato Muller), Margo Lion (Planche-à-pain), Raymond Aimos (Marcel Mulot), Viviane Romance (ragazza di Barcellona), Charles Granval (il segoviano), Maurice Lagrenée (Simenon), Jésus Castro Blanco (il sergente), Robert Ozanne (il tatuato), Louis Florencie (Gorlier), Reine Paulet (Rosita), Little Jacky (Weber), NoEl Roquevert (il sergente nel treno), Genia Vaury (la ragazza del ristorante); Prod.: Maurice Juven per SNC – Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie; Pri. pro.: Parigi, 20 settembre 1935 35mm. D.: 102′. Bn.
In the nighttime sequence that opens La Bandera, Julien Duvivier’s visual and narrative style is immediately recognizable – the pan shot above a world of ant-sized humans, the crime in suspension, the physical heat of blood, frenetic action, the city as a stage for the illusion of escaping, a man’s marked fate – just as are some themes of Poetic Realism, which began in this period. The mysterious opening crime is like a curse on the destiny of Pierre Gilieth, the character that made Jean Gabin a star. Space turns cloyingly claustrophobic during Gilieth’s escape in Barcelona and in the exotic settings of the Spanish Foreign Legion. Duvivier’s underdog heroes are condemned to exile, the obsession of remorse and homesickness for the land they had to leave behind, and the future holds for them a violent death that often seems a mockery (in fact, Gilieth is killed as reinforcements arrive). The exotic and fanciful world of the Legion is just a deceptive respite from reality, like the love story with the charming dancer Aïcha “la Slaoui” (Annabella) and the late friendship with Lucas (the diabolic Robert Le Vigan), who was supposed to arrest Gilieth for a reward. The frenetic realism of some sequences (the chase scene in Barcelona, shot with the camera hidden in the crowd) alternates brilliantly with the symbolic density of dark, dreamlike digressions (the superimposed dream of the murder) and visionary elements (the legionnaire with the mask of death tattooed on his face). The attack on the fort is a claustrophobic sequence where the spasmodic actions of the dying legionnaires’ bodies and the cruel details (the barrel full of poisoned water, an unending chain of torment) give the film a tragic tone.
It was Gabin who proposed that Duvivier get the rights to Pierre Mac Orlan’s novel to make a film adaptation. The first of seven films with the screenwriter Charles Spaak and the third film of successful collaboration with Gabin, La Bandera was shot on location (except the scenes with Annabella, which were shot in the studio). The film was originally dedicated to the then colonel Franco, who had supported the filming in Spanish Morocco, but the dedication was removed from the 1959 reissue. In Italy fascist censors chopped out less than thirty minutes from the original film.