Scen.: Julien Duvivier, Charles Spaak. F.: Marc Fossard, Jules Krüge. M.: Marthe Poncin. Scgf.: Jacques Krauss. Mus.: Julien Duvivier, Louis Poterat, Maurice Yvain. Int.: Jean Gabin (Jean), Charles Vanel (Charles), Raymond Aimos (Raymond), Charles Dorat (Jacques), Viviane Romance (Gina), Raphaël Medina (Mario), Micheline Cheirel (Huguette), Fernand Charpin (la guardia), Raymond Cordy (l’ubriaco), Charles Granval (l’albergatore). Prod.: Arys Nissotti per Ciné-Arys Productions ·DCP. D.: 104’. Bn.
La Belle équipe is an iconic film of Poetic Realism and the mood of the Front Populaire (which won the elections during the filming), as far as the working-class protagonists are indifferent to ideology, as was Julien Duvivier, who recognized an immediate empathy with Charles Spaak’s storyline in terms of its pessimism and spirit of disillusionment (tinged with misogyny). Five friends (played by, among others, the extraordinary Jean Gabin and Charles Vanel), united first by poverty and then by an unexpected lottery win, abandon Paris to renovate a ruin on the banks of the Marne, transforming it into a guinguette (open-air café). They pursue a utopian community, which gradually falls apart before ending in tragedy with the intrusion of a poisonous femme fatale (Viviane Romance). The first part of the film, shot in the Pathé Joinville studios, has the lightheartedness of a popular comedy (with an opening of extraordinary lively choreography), which is accentuated when the action moves to an idyllic natural setting (the island of Pisse-Vinaigre). But the five friends’ fraternal utopia is too fragile to resist a crescendo, carefully balanced with defections, misfortunes and incidents that gradually reduce the group to two (Gabin and Vanel). At the opening party, disaster strikes.
Duvivier and Spaak managed to persuade the producer Arys Nissotti to present such a bitter film only thanks to the backing of Gabin (at his fourth film with Duvivier). After the film’s commercial failure during the first few days of screening, however, Nissotti convinced Duvivier to shoot some new sequences and to re-edit the last part to give it a happy ending. This became definitive after the public chose it in a poll. Up until 1960, La Belle équipe was then distributed in France with an optimistic ending (Duvivier and Spaak: “the stupidity of this version where the final scenes contradict the rest of the film”). In 1966, the writers reacquired the rights, but could no longer find the original. Just before his death in 1967, Duvivier, found a Swiss copy subtitled in German thanks to the Cinémathèque française, whose last reel was replaced with that of the producer. In the meantime, the sweetened version had also circulated in Great Britain and the United States, while in Italy and Germany the original version was released. With historian Lenny Borger’s discovery of a nitrate dupe preserved by Cineteca Nazionale in Rome, the writers’ original version has been restored.