Une si jolie petite plage
the most visually arresting film to come out of the partnership of
director Yves Allégret and screenwriter Jacques Sigurd.
Drenched in an aura of melancholia, it provides
a bleakly existential meditation on the impossibility of escaping
from one's past and the consequences of one's actions.
In both its subject matter and its stark monochrome composition, the film is
strongly evocative of American film noir of the 1940s and French poetic
realism of the late 1930s, yet there are also shards of modernity - the
plot references a major social issue of the time (the problems faced by
state adopted children) and Allégret's unpolished mise-en-scene
has more than a touch of the auteur about it.
Stylistically, there are strong similarities with Allégret and
Sigurd's previous film, Dédée d'Anvers
(1948), a classic of French film noir which evokes a similar mood of
repression and fatalism, a sense of the noose gradually tightening
around the neck. The bleakness of the setting is reflected in the
cynicism and apparent lack of humanity of the characters. Everyone
appears to have a great need to be loved and yet no one is capable
of feeling for (or even trusting) anyone else. What we see here
is how France was in the aftermath of WWII, bruised and desolate,
ashamed of the past and apprehensive about the future.
Could this be why the film fared so badly at the box office, because it
captured the mood of the time so perfectly?
Une si jolie petite plage
is the most lyrical and
ambiguous of Allégret's film noir dramas, and for this reason it
is probably the best. The characters are not well-defined, there
are no obvious heroes and villains, and most of the story is told by
the camera, not by the actors spewing reams of dialogue.
We naturally recognise
Pierre (Gérard Philipe at his best) as the doomed fugitive whose
troubled past is about to catch up with him, and Fred (Jean Servais, in
lull) exudes enough
quiet menace to qualify as his nemesis. But, other than this, the
noir archetypes are hard to pin down and the further we get into the
film the more its allegorical subtext becomes apparent. This is
not a film about the destiny of one man, but rather the destiny of
nation. It is about France, shamed by military defeat and a
period of occupation, coming to terms with its traumatic wartime
experiences and learning from the errors of the past to build a better,
The fact that the film failed to attract an audience in spite of some
very favourable reviews (François Truffaut and Jean-Pierre
Melville considered it an unequivocal masterpiece) suggests just how
difficult it was for the French people to reflect on their recent
past. Une si jolie
is a hauntingly beautiful film which, with its
austere realism and lack of dramatic artifice, looks forward to a new
kind of cinema, that which the French New Wave would begin to deliver a
decade later. But at the time when the film was first seen it
offered little comfort. The depressing ending was far more likely
to be interpreted as an admission of defeat rather than a gesture of
hope. What can be read into Pierre's fate other than the
dismal truism that we can never escape from our past? Not an
encouraging message for a nation that was keen to put its recent past
behind it. Of course, the film's real message is a salutary one:
to escape the past, we must fully acknowledge it. Alas, this is
something that the French were unable to do for many years.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.