RENOIR, VIGO, GRÉMILLON – LES ÉCLAIREURS DE L’OMBRE

Alain Agat

Scen., F.: Alain Agat. M.: Matthieu Augustin. Mus.: Dominique Légitimus. Prod.: Sébastien Tézé per Les Films d’un Jour. DCP. Bn e Col

info_outline
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 Grand Illusion, Boudu Saved from Drowning, Little Lise, Toni, Daïnah la métisse, L’Atalante… These masterpieces of the 1930s mark the beginning of talkies, as well as the apex of the colonial discourse designating black populations as naturally, and subsequently socially, inferior to white populations. In these films, the three directors, Renoir, Vigo and Grémillon do not conform to the simplistic vision of the period. Black actors, whether playing main characters, secondary roles or mere extras, reveal a perspective at a countercurrent, transcending the simple “colonial” opposition between blacks and whites.
Through his study of the representation of black people in painting through to the popular iconography conveyed in the discourse of the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition (the largest event of the early 20th century), Alain Agat outlines the racist framework of the era in order to clearly demonstrate the extent to which the three directors distance themselves from it.
For example, Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning reverses the social opposition generally used by the cinema of the 1930s… It might have gone unnoticed by the contemporary viewer if the director had not thought to signal it a trademark of the “Renoir method”, promoting the positive image of black people. Jean Vigo and Jean Grémillon, with poetry and music respectively, allowed for alternative readings of black populations through other devices, also accurately described in this documentary.
Alain Agat’s new insight into these works from the golden age of French cinema is further enhanced by scenes that were censored, cut, never edited and found for this film. We can witness a scene from Jean Grémillon’s Little Lise, in which interracial couples (black men and white women) dance at a “negro” ball, the term used at the time, in a way that is no doubt a blatant affront to the discourse of a colonial exhibition that would open its doors five months later, and that would include, incidentally, the participation of the film’s producer. It is one of the many examples of a history of French cinema which, thanks to this documentary, offers us new pages to discover.

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