Raymond Bernard

(in tre parti: Tempête sous un crâne, Les Thénardier e Liberté, liberté Chérie) T. it.: I Miserabili. Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Victor Hugo. Scen.: Raymond Bernard, André Lang. F.: Jules Kruger. Scgf.: Jean Perrier. Co.: Paul Colin. Mu.: Arthur Honegger. Su.: Antoine Archimbaud. Int.: Harry Baur (Jean Valjean), Charles Vanel (Javert), Florelle (Fantine), Charles Dullin (Thénardier), Marguerite Moreno (la Thénardier), Orane Demazis (Eponine), Jean Servais (Marius Pontmercy), Max Dearly (Gillenormand), Paul Azaïs (Grantaire), Émile Genevois (Gavroche), Henry Krauss (Monsignor Myriel), Robert Vidalin (Enjolras), Georges Mauloy (presidente del tribunale), Lucien Nat (Montparnasse), Joseline Gaël (Cosette). Prod.: Pathé-Nathan. Pri. pro: 3 febbraio 1934 DCP. D.: 285’ (Tempête sous un crâne: 115’; Les Thénardier: 83’; Liberté, liberté Chérie: 87’). 

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

The best Les Misérables of them all? Those happy few who have seen Henri Fescourt’s elegant 1925 silent version (shown in Bologna in 2004 and now undergoing a long overdue new restoration at the Archives Françaises du Film) will have a tough choice when they see Raymond Bernard’s more spectacular three-part 1934 film, at last restored to within a few moments of its original length (only five hours). Fescourt illustrates Hugo with the eye of an impressionist painter, often filming on the very locations described in the novel and taking his own sweet time about it (seven hours!). Bernard, a master of sweeping spectacle who was dubbed the “French D.W. Griffith” in his heyday, is unsurpassed at balancing the intimate and the epic, displaying a panache that owes little to formatted Hollywood filmmaking. In itself the recreation of the June Rebellion of 1832 is the most flamboyant expression of Hugolian romanticism in film since the Double-Tempest sequence in Gance’s Napoleon (itself inspired by a line in Hugo’s Ninety-Three).

Bernard never betrays the spirit of the literary text even when he condenses and amputates entire chunks of plot – gone (understandably) are Hugo’s digressions on convents and the origins of slang, the history of the Paris sewer system and even the battle of Waterloo, which give the novel its stylistic originality. Yet he even dares to eliminate the evil pauper, Thenardier, at the end of the second film, dispatching him to prison in order to give the revolutionary episode his fullest attention. Bernard’s most inspired trouvaille – a throwaway anecdote in the book’s second volume – opens the film when the Herculean Jean Valjean grapples with a caryatid on a public building façade. With this metonymy all this said: Valjean, the social pariah, the human gargoyle, will bear the brunt of the action on his shoulders and in his heart. Similarly, Hugo’s famous meditation, “Tempest in a Skull”, is expressed in a tumult of rapidly edited tilt shots that lay bare Jean Valjean’s tortured soul. With the fall of the silver candlesticks, Monseigneur Myriel reminds the ex-convict of his moral duty to others; the candles go out as Fantine lays dying; the hero recovers inner peace at the same time as the film finds it ‘natural’ rhythm. Two destinies are sealed in this simple, ascetic image: There-in lies the filmmaker’s mastery.

Béatrice De Pastre and Lenny Borger

Copy From

The restoration was carried out by Pathé at L’Immagine Ritrovata film laboratory in 2012