Jean Grémillon

1898-1959

Biography

Jean Gremillon photo
Although he deserves to be ranked with the great French film directors of the Twentieth Century, Jean Grémillon has always occupied a comparatively obscure position in French cinema history. Several decades after his death, thanks mainly to the efforts of a loyal band of devotees, his films (including some undisputed masterpieces) are finally regaining the recognition they deserve.

Born at Bayeux, France, Jean Grémillon originally trained as a musician, paying for his lessons at the Schola Cantorum by providing a violin accompaniment to silent films in cinemas. Around 1923, he began to take an interest in film-making and started making short documentaries (most of which no longer exist). These include Photogénie mécanique (1924) and Tour au large (1926).

He first made his mark with his two silent films, Maldone (1928) and Gardiens de Phare (1929), which allowed him to develop his own brand of poetic realism. Neither of these films was a great commercial success, however, and the failure of his first sound film, La Petite Lise (1930), forced him into exile, working mainly in Germany at the Ufa Studios.

He made one film in Spain, ¡Centinela, alerta! (1937), scripted by Luis Buñuel, but his first successes came during his last few years working at the Ufa studios. These included Gueule d'amour (1937) and L'Etrange Monsieur Victor (1938), which were not just masterpieces of poetic realism but were also very popular (most probably because they starred two of France's most popular actors at the time, Jean Gabin in the first, Raimu in the second).

Back in France, now under the Nazi occupation, Grémillon made what many consider to be his two greatest masterpieces, Lumière d'été (1943) and Le ciel est à vous (1944), both of which were coveted attacks on the Vichy government. In 1945, he made another great film, Le 6 juin à l'aube, which commemorated the massacre of the Normandy landing during the Liberation. Unable to find a backer, he had to abandon a further project which was dear to his heart, Le Printemps de la Liberté, which would have marked the centenary of the revolution of 1848.

In the 1950s, Grémillon had difficulties getting funding for his films and he was forced to return to making documentary shorts. He ended his career making films about art, right up to his death, in Paris in 1959.

The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.




Awards

Jean Grémillon won 1 Venice Film Festival award for: The Charms of Life (1950, Best Short Film).



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