Scen.: Julien Duvivier, Charles Spaak. Dial.: Charles Spaak. F.: Armand Thirard, Robert Juillard, Christian Matras, Ernest Bourreaud. M.: Marthe Poncin. Scgf.: Jacques Krauss. Mus.: Maurice Jaubert. Int.: Louis Jouvet (Saint-Clair), Michel Simon (Cabrissade), Madeleine Ozeray (Jeannette), Victor Francen (Gilles Marny), Gabrielle Dorziat (Madame Chabert), Sylvie (Madame Tusini), Arthur Devère (il direttore di scena), Gaston Modot (il padrone del bistrot), Raymone (la padrona del bistrot), François Périer (il giornalista). Prod.: Regina Films ·DCP. D.: 105’. Bn.
Julien Duvivier knew the secret to creating explosive opening scenes where in just a few minutes he could condense the atmosphere of a world and the features and story of a character with masterly visual fluidity. La Fin du jour opens with a performance of Alexandre Dumas’ Antony in front of a half-empty audience, and the troupe is in a hurry to finish the show so they don’t miss the last train. All but Saint-Clair (Louis Jouvet), an old actor performing his swan song. He brags about an upcoming vacation but instead is about to go into a retirement home for actors at the Saint-Jean-la-Rivière abbey. It is another confined space (as is often the case in Charles Spaak’s screenplays – Grande illusion is another example) in which the story of Saint-Clair is intertwined with that of Cabrissade (Michel Simon), a failed actor used as a stand-in, Marny (Victor Francen), a showman who is laid up because of depression caused by the loss of his wife, and a lively array of carefully characterized old actors and actresses (including Gabrielle Dorziat and Sylvie). Duvivier describes old age without sugarcoating, dominated by feelings of regret, bitterness and frustration. He entrusts to the genius of Michel Simon the guise of a loser who stubbornly refuses to accept old age, taking refuge in unyielding childishness. There is also an autobiographical echo in the scene where Cabrissade is about to finally play the role of Flambeau but forgets his lines as he goes on stage. It was something that actually happened to the young Duvivier in 1916 when treading the boards at the Odéon.
The frailty of old age is reflected in the vulnerability of being actors, living in a make-believe world, often also off stage, a fiction which Duvivier (sometimes alluding to the real identities of the performers) also shows in its aspects of deception, a game of masks that can drift into madness: the Saint-Clair of the great Jouvet, cynical seducer, confirmed narcissist (he sends himself old letters from lovers to make others believe he is still adored) and cruel manipulator, tries to provoke a young waitress to commit suicide.
Made by Duvivier following his first Hollywood experience (The Great Waltz), the film was awarded the Coppa della Biennale at the 1939 Venice Film Festival, troubled by the outbreak of war. The Italian version was cut by around twenty minutes.
LA FIN DU JOUR
Restored in 2015 by Pathé from the nitrate camera negative and the optical negative soundtrack, property of Christian Duviver. Restored in 4K at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory