La Kermesse héroïque (1935)

aka: Carnival in Flanders
History / War / Comedy


La Kermesse héroïque photo
1616. In the small Flemish village of Boom, the burgomaster is preparing a banquet for his daughter's wedding to the local butcher. She, however, is in love with the painter Jean Breughel. A messenger suddenly announce the arrival of a Spanish army unit, led by the Duke of Olivarès, passing through on their way to Holland. The news causes widespread panic - the male villagers go into hiding and the burgomaster pretends to be dead. The burgomaster's wife, Cornelia, takes charge of the situation, gathering the women of the village to organise a fête to welcome the Spaniards. With her husband safely out of the way, Cornelia charms the war-weary Spanish Duke and gets him to approve her daughter's marriage to Breughel.
© 2012

Film Review

This enduring classic of French cinema is often cited as director Jacques Feyder's finest film and it certainly earned him great acclaim on its release in 1935.
Film pic 1
It was awarded the Grand Prix du Cinéma Français and also a medal by the Societé d'Encouragement à l'Art et l'Industrie. The film was particularly successful in Germany, where it was praised (for obvious reasons) by the Nazi regime. In the following years, the film soon lost its popular appeal. It was reviled by the nationalists in Belgium, who described it as blatant German propaganda. Then, paradoxically, it was banned in 1939 by the Nazis. It is only comparatively recently (within the last thirty years) that the film has regained classic status that it clearly merits.

Film pic 2
The most striking thing about La Kermesse héroïque is its epic visual feel. Huge sets and a cast of, if not thousands, several hundred, give a convincing recreation of 17th century Flanders. Feyder is reputed to have made the film to promote Flemish art. This is borne out by the elaborate sets and costumes (evidently inspired by the paintings of Franz Hals and Jordaens) which gives the feel of a painting "that has come to life". Although made in black and white, it is a hugely colourful film, full of energy and humanity - in fact very typical of Feyder's works as a whole.

The film skilfully combines the spectacle of a quality historical drama with outrageous comic farce, making this one of the finest comedies in French cinema history. The magnificent Françoise Rosay gives possibly her finest comic performance as the cowardly burgomaster's wife, lighting up every scene she appears in with her perfect comic timing and indefatigable sense of authority.
Film pic 3
An excellent cast includes Louis Jouvet in one of his first screen roles, playing a chaplain with an all-too-evident taste for the pleasures of the flesh.

Whilst some of the comic situations in the film are possibly a little laboured, La Kermesse héroïque is a charming work which does offer a very effective satire on the politics of collaboration. In one harrowing sequence (brilliantly executed), the film shows what can happen when a small town attempts to resist an occupying power. Compared with that, the humiliation of wining, dining and bedding the enemy appears to be a far smaller price to pay. Or so it would seem.
The above article was written for and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.


The director Jacques Feyder also worked with the actor Françoise Rosay on the films Pension Mimosas (1935), Les Gens du voyage (1938) and Macadam (1946).

Film Credits

Related articles

2015 film releases

Read more about the French films to be released in 2015...

The Silent Era

Before the advent of sound France was a world leader in cinema. Find out more about this overlooked era.

The Golden Age

Discover the best French films of the 1930s, a decade of cinematic delights...

The Occupation Era

Even in the dark days of the Occupation, French cinema continued to impress with its artistry and diversity.

The New Wave

A wave of fresh talent in the late 1950s, early 1960s brought about a dramatic renaissance in French cinema, placing the auteur at the core of France's 7th art.