Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Stormy Waters (Remorques, 1941)

A late entry in the poetic-realist wave in '30s French cinema, starring its chief male muse Jean Gabin, and directed by Jean Grémillon. Stormy Waters is an atmopsheric, fluent, intense character drama where Gabin plays the Captain of an ocean-going tug, the "Cyclone", stationed in Brest. He and his crew brave storms to rescue floundering ships, and on the wedding night of one of the junior officers, they're called out to bring in a tanker. That ship's captain (Jean Marchat) is a hysterical, obnoxious fool who'll let his ship drift a little longer just to spite his crew and the rescuers he'll have to pay for the job. His wife (Michèle Morgan) has put up with him for two years and is so fed up she bails in a lifeboat with some of the crew. Gabin picks her up and, once she's dried off, falls for her hard. Problem - he's been married for ten years to Madeleine Renaud, and she's keeping secret from her husband a heart defect that's being aggravated by anxiety over his job. That this meaty, fascinating milieu, excellently portrayed by Gremillon's film-making, is badly served by unimpressive special effects lets the team down a bit, and also that it turns out to be a set-up for yet another adulterous quandary; Gabin himself claimed he gave up watching romantic films because it was "the same old eternal triangle". Yet the film's elegant editing and photograpahy, and fervent acting - especially from Morgan as an emotionally frayed but radiant woman who sees her life as rootless - add to the emotional genuineness and sharp dialogue of Jacques Prevert's screenplay that neatly ties together the setting and the characters as being, indeed, people on stormy waters. It leads to a dizzying and tragic final scene that is as memorable as it is strange.

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