Un ami viendra ce soir (1946)

aka: A Friend Will Come Tonight
Thriller / Drama / War


Un ami viendra ce soir photo
August 1944. On the outskirts of a small village in the French Alps, Dr Lestrade manages an asylum for the mentally deranged. His patients include Hélène, a young blonde who lives in her dreams, Lemaret, who imagines he is the president of the Land of Innocence, Prunier, who walks around with his chest bared because he burns with an inner fire, and Martin, a former police commissioner who closely scrutinises his fellows. One day, a battalion of German soldiers arrive in the village, brutally shattering the fragile peace of the asylum. They are looking for Commander Gérard, a senior member of the resistance who, they are certain, is hiding in the area. Maurice Tiller, a Swiss doctor who lives nearby, persuades the Germans to leave the patients in peace. He doesn't realise that Lestrade, his staff and some of the patients are working for the resistance, and are awaiting an important message for their next offensive...
© filmsdefrance.com 2012

Film Review

Un ami viendra ce soir was one of the surprisingly few films made in France immediately after the Second World War which attempted to recount the experiences of the war.
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The only other film of note made at this time and tackling the same subject is René Clément's La Bataille du rail (1946). Both of these films are heavily preoccupied with repaying the debt owed to the resistance, but Un ami viendra ce soir goes further afield and dares to broach more sensitive subjects, such as the thorny matter of collaboration and France's harsh treatment of its Jewish population. Significantly, it is the first French film to make a direct reference to the Holocaust, a terrible truth which many French people still found hard to accept.

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Un ami viendra ce soir was directed by Raymond Bernard, one of France's most capable filmmakers, perhaps best known for his silent masterpiece Le Joueur d'échecs (1927). Bernard's Jewish origin resulted in him being banned from working on films when the Nazis took control of France in the early 1940s and he spent most of the war in hiding. The war left a deep scar on Bernard - his brother, the playwright Jean-Jacques Bernard, was deported to a concentration camp (but lived to tell the tale), and his father, the renowned writer Tristan Bernard spent some time in the French internment camp at Drancy.

Another man who was deeply affected by the war was screenwriter Jacques Companéez. A Russian émigré, Companéez began his career in Germany, but moved to France when Hitler came to power. In the 1930s, he worked on a number of films, notably Jean Renoir's Les Bas-fonds (1936),
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Because of his Jewish origins, Companéez was forced into hiding when the Nazis invaded France. It was at this time that he conceived and wrote the screenplay for Un ami viendra ce soir, a story which shows how easy it is to be deceived by appearances, and where seemingly everyone has a hidden identity.

It is the experiences of its director and screenwriter which makes Un ami viendra ce soir such an absorbing, truthful and occasionally shocking film. There is a realism in the brutality and single-mindedness of the German soldiers which, even today, arouses a genuine feeling of fear and loathing. The film has an impressive cast, with some particularly memorable contributions from Michel Simon and Saturnin Fabre. The one casting mistake is perhaps Madeleine Sologne (France's answer to Veronica Lake); although she gives an engaging performance, she is just too glamorous, too detached, and this works against the film's realism and creepily dark atmosphere.

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Another fault with the film is that it seems to be torn between two very distinct genres - the conventional mystery thriller and the gritty wartime drama. The sad reality is that the film would probably never have been made without its thriller ingredients (if it had, it world almost certainly have been a commercial disaster), but these diminish its realism and prevent the film from being an entirely truthful and credible depiction of France's wartime experiences. It's interesting to compare this film with Raymond Bernard's earlier war film Les Croix de bois (1933), which gives a harrowingly realistic depiction of the life of ordinary soldiers in the First World War - a film whose content is far less marked by commercial considerations and consequently has far greater longevity and emotional impact.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.


The director Raymond Bernard also worked with the actor Michel Simon on the film Amants et voleurs (1935).

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