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IN LOVE WITH A TIMELESS IMPASSE
AND, PASS SALES EXTENDED BUT MUST END SUNDAY NIGHT...
A handful of all-festival passes for FRENCH ‘23 are still available, and we’re extending the time window until Sunday night (11/19) so that any stragglers out there can obtain them before single seats go on sale Monday the 20th. Here is that PayPal link to use for purchasing passes; we hope to see you at all four days of FRENCH 23…
IT was a film that surprised us when we first screened it in 2015: first, because it had been a last-minute substitution; second, because the audience was simply enraptured by it. (You can feel it in the room when it happens: it was magical.)
Two years prior to IMPASSE DES DEUX ANGES (1948), Paul Meurisse and Simone Signoret had played con-man and lover in the marvelous MACADAM (a film I’m strongly considering reprising in 2024…) and though the story that unfolds therein doesn’t leave room for a sequel, their re-teaming in the great Maurice Tourneur’s final film demonstrates a singularly sublime chemistry.
And now I’m pleased to turn the proceedings over to Phoebe Green, who has penned a splendid overview of a film that is certain to thrill and delight you when it’s screened on Monday, November 27.
IMPASSE DES DEUX ANGES is named after a real dead-end street in the Saint Germain quarter of Paris, long before Armani and Ralph Lauren invaded the neighborhood—dating back to when Simone de Beauvoir described to Nelson Algren the local woman who made her living reselling tobacco picked from discarded cigarette butts.
This is an alluring agglomeration of a film, where the star-crossed love story ostensibly driving the intrigue fades into the background as successively fascinating noir interpolations appear.
After the titles, we’re in a bank, where box 13 is being opened for Antoine (Marcel Herrand), a Marquis. He is retrieving the diamond necklace conferred by Louis XIV on the Marquise de Fontaines and worn since then by every Fontaines bride on her wedding day.
Two hollow-cheeked crooks, Minus and Bébé (Paul Demange, Reggie Nalder) observe this from the street and alert their boss, “Le Vicomte,” who is arranging to take advantage of the Marquis’ scandalous marriage to music hall star Marianne by engaging a shadowy figure known as “le spécialiste”, who is to steal the necklace that night. “Le spécialiste” turns to be Paul Meurisse, with a Warner Brothers deadpan so emphatic it’s funny. (This is perhaps a souvenir of Meurisse’s 1930s cabaret act, singing peppy popular songs gloomily.) His given name is Jean, revealed as he requests a cigarette, but not just any—he holds out for a Gauloise, which he savors in close-up.
Now we’re at the music hall rehearsal of “Le Chevalier d’Eon”, where journalists witness Marianne handing over her leading role to her understudy. Marianne is a brunette Simone Signoret, fabulously leggy in silk stockings and tricorne, as down to earth and glamorous as Marlene Dietrich taking a cake out of the oven.
Antoine has outraged his family by refusing to sign the marriage contract the family solicitor has drawn up. He will not accept any protection from the law of community property; he is throwing himself heart and fortune into his first romantic folly.
Marianne returns to her hôtel particulier where that evening she will host a reception for the des Fontaines relatives en masse: “Saint Germain—the Faubourg, not the Café de Flore,” she notes worriedly. Antoine presents Marianne with the necklace, to be kept in her safe overnight. “Le Vicompte,” acting as an extra servant at the reception, lets “guest” Jean in to snag the necklace.
As he returns from emptying the safe, inevitably, he and Marianne meet and recognize each other. One thing leads to another, and (to Antoine’s shock) they leave together.
They remember the last time they saw each other—and in a sublime double-exposure, we see the ghosts of their past selves. A younger, poorer Jean gets out of a taxi, kisses a plain, frizzy-haired Anne-Marie goodbye, and goes off in the taxi—where, unseen by Anne-Marie, plainclothesmen handcuff him.
After a series of adventures, Marianne and Jean face what he has become. He blames her: she wanted pretty things, he was afraid if he couldn’t afford to give her them she would abandon him for a man who could. Gently but firmly, she refuses to accept his accusation.
Jean asks Marianne to let him take cover for the night in her house. Their nocturnal antics have aroused suspicion among his criminal partners and the morning will be tricky, even for a “specialiste.” Meanwhile, Marianne, convinced that Antoine will call off the marriage, calls her agent to reopen the question of the South American tour she rejected.
The ending should not be spoiled, for it is perfect in a fatalistic, romantic, class-conscious, deadpan way. That Warner Brothers face mask has more expressive range than one might think, and Maurice Tourneur’s final impasse is itself a testament to the range of noir as only the French can do it.
OUR thanks to Phoebe—who knows the good stuff when she sees it—for this charming, affectionate look at a film that might well be the sleeper hit of a second FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT festival…