L'Homme du large
, Marcel L'Herbier's first great film, offers an extraordinarily
compelling portrayal of the forces of good and evil that motivate human behaviour.
Whilst it does not have the huge epic scale of some of L'Herbier's subsequent films, it
is nonetheless a masterwork of cinematic storytelling and uses a dazzling range of photographic
techniques to hold the audience's attention.
The harsh Brittany coast provides an appropriate setting for this austere tale of filial
betrayal and redemption. The alluringly beautiful but fearsome open sea emphasises
the temperament of the fisherman Nolff, a simple solitary soul whose only wish is that
his son becomes like him. Meanwhile, the scenes of wild debauchery in a town tavern
(at one time censored for being too explicit) reveal the true nature of Nolff's wayward
son, Michel. The narrative approach is simple but it is astonishingly effective,
with moments of harrowing dramatic intensity gradually building to a genuinely poignant
climax. In addition, the documentary-style filming of an Easter festival provides
an illuminating record of Breton life in the early part of the Twentieth Century.
The historic importance of L'Homme du large
is summed up Henri Langlois, founder
of the cinématèque française, who described the film as the first
example of "écriture cinématographique". It also marked the
screen debut for famed French actor Charles Boyer. The film was recently restored
(by Gaumont in 1998), complete with the original colour tints and decorated caption cards.
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