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July 25, 2005

Casque d'or

Jacques Becker -1952
Criterion Region 1 DVD

In the supplement to Casque d'or, Claude Dauphin comments on how the film should have been shot in color because the opening scene resembles paintings by Pierre Auguste Renoir. Dauphin was correct. One can see echoes of The Boating Party and The Seine at Asnieres in both subject matter and framing. The resemblance to Renoir's paintings is no coincidence as Jacques Becker began his career as the assistant to Renoir's son, Jean Renoir on several films including Grand Illusion. The Renoir connection did not stop there as Becker's films were edited by Marguerite Renoir, Jean Renoir's partner.

Taking place in the 1890s, Casque d'or is about a prostitute (Simone Signoret) who falls in love with a carpenter (Serge Reggiani). Marie, the prostitute, is distinguished by her casque d'or - her "golden helmet" of hair. The carpenter, Jo, is set up by the local crime boss, Leca (Claude Dauphin) to fight Marie's pimp for the right to be with Marie. The fight between Jo and the pimp is done without music or dialogue. For just a few minutes, the characters are reduced to animal instinct for survival.

I am just starting to get acquainted with Becker's films. While I read a little bit about him as an influence on the Nouvelle Vague directors, I can not recall his films every being shown while I lived in New York City during the early 70s. I saw Le Trou on DVD a couple of years ago and strongly recommend that film. The acclaimed Touchez pas au grisbi has recently been made available on DVD as well. While there are those who love Casque d'or, I can only say I liked it. Of the two films by Becker I have seen, it lacked the impact of Le Trou.

What made the film interesting was the presentation of France during La Belle Epoque. Gangsters were better dressed and had somewhat better manners, but otherwise were not to different. Leca's front is as a seller of wine. He also has a police inspector on his payroll. Especially compared to American films of the same time, Casque d'or is especially frank in showing Signoret and Reggiani in bed together, as well as the peripheral sight of a carriage driver relieving himself by a tree. Becker was a filmmaker who loved to tell stories of society's outsiders. As Becker himself stated: "I am French; I make films about French people; I look at French people; I am interested in French people."

Posted by peter at July 25, 2005 04:42 PM