Scen.: Julien Duvivier, Henri Jeanson. F.: Roger Hubert. M.: Marthe Poncin. Scgf.: Jean d’Eaubonne. Mus.: Georges Auric. Int.: Dany Robin (Henriette), Michel Auclair (Maurice), Hildegard Knef (Rita Solar), Michel Roux (Robert), Saturnin Fabre (Antoine), Julien Carette (Arthur), Henri Crémieux (sceneggiatore), Louis Seigner (sceneggiatore). Prod.: Arys Nissotti, Pierre O’Connell, George Loureau per Régina, Filmsonor. DCP. D.: 110’. Bn.
This comedy written by Henri Jeanson and Julien Duvivier is an unidentified film object: absolutely one of a kind. Instead of offering a chronologically predictable narrative structure, the filmmakers present the film through the eyes of two screenwriters with opposing views played by Henri Crémieux and Louis Seigner: a wild ‘imagination’ that allows the director to switch constantly from reality to fiction and vice versa.
Since the film’s storyline is basically the creation of a screenplay, Duvivier and Jeanson use it to show their thoughts on stereotypes and the other constraints of this thankless job. In fact, Henri Crémieux would only write about chase scenes at breakneck speed, shoot-outs and women in tight clothes, while Louis Seigner is more inclined towards the poetry of everyday life with a touch of unreality. Duvivier would never even dream of distinguishing auteur cinema from mainstream film, being fully aware of how thin the line dividing the two is. So he lets Henri Crémieux, inspired by a short newspaper article, give a nod to both Bicycle Thieves (1948), the landmark film of Italian neorealism, and Don Camillo (1951), a popular comedy Duvivier had just finished.
French post-war cinema was experiencing a crisis due to the quantity of imported American films. Duvivier’s position in it is paradoxical. The director had spent the whole war period in Hollywood, where he had made a name for himself, and now he had to face American competition in France. To the extent that he even shows us his dilemma: should he return to the poetic realism of his pre-war films or copy American action films with characters with rudimentary psychology? He answers the question himself through the style we see on the screen, the virtuoso style of a great artist: a deft parody with Hitchcockesque suspense in crooked shots of the streets of Paris, which meant to show the silliness of such effects when not grounded in a solid screenplay.
With the fast-paced tempo of Georges Auric’s brilliant score, Duvivier follows his characters in a picture-postcard Paris. The actors play the stereotype roles with talent and humour. The viewer will rejoice in seeing how the two screenwriters clash with each other, taking their characters in totally opposite directions.
A delightful comedy that apparently was too French with its parodic style, La Fête à Henriette had the honor exactly ten years later of an American remake directed by Richard Quine, Paris When It Sizzles (1962), inverting the trend, to Duvivier’s great satisfaction, with an American film being inspired by French cinema.