Nationality: French. Born: Batignolles, Paris, 18 August 1909. Career: Worked as insurance clerk, mid-1920s; assistant to cameraman Georges Périnal on Les Nouveaux Messieurs , 1928; worked as film critic, and made short film, 1929; assistant to René Clair on Sous les toits de Paris , 1930; editor-in-chief, Hebdo-Films journal, and
Films as Director:
Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche
Drôle de drame ( Bizarre Bizarre )
Quai des brumes ( Port of Shadows ); Hotel du Nord
Le Jour se lève ( Daybreak ); École communale (abandoned due to war)
Les Visiteurs du soir ( The Devil's Envoys )
Les Enfants du paradis ( Children of Paradise )
Les Portes de la nuit ( Gates of the Night )
La Fleur de l'âge (not completed)
La Marie du port (+ co-sc)
Juliette ou la Clé des songes (+ co-sc)
Thérèse Raquin ( The Adulteress ) (+ co-sc)
L'Air de Paris (+ co-sc)
Le Pays d'où je viens (+ co-sc)
Les Tricheurs ( The Cheaters )
Terrain vague (+ co-sc)
Du mouron pour les petits oiseaux (+ co-sc)
Trois Chambres à Manhattan (+ co-sc)
Les Jeunes Loups ( The Young Wolves )
Les Assassins de l'ordre (+ co-sc)
La Merveilleuse Visite (+ co-sc)
La Bible (feature doc for TV and theatrical release)
By CARNÉ: book—
Les Enfants du Paradis , with Jacques Prevert, London, 1988.
By CARNÉ: articles—
Interview, with F. Cuel and others, in Cinématographe (Paris), May 1978.
"Comment est ne Le Quai des brumes ," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 October 1979.
"Marcel Carné sous la coupole," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 July 1980.
Interview in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1988.
Interview in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1991.
On CARNÉ: books—
Béranger, Jean-Louis, Marcel Carné , Paris, 1945.
Landrey, Bernard, Marcel Carné, sa vie, ses films , Paris.
Quéval, Jean, Marcel Carné , Paris, 1952.
Prévert, Jacques, Children of Paradise , New York, 1968.
Armes, Roy, French Film since 1946: The Great Tradition , New York, 1970.
Prévert, Jacques, Le Jour se lève , New York, 1970.
Perez, Michel, Les films de Carné , Paris, 1986.
Turk, Edward Baron, Child of Paradise: Marcel Carné and the Golden Age of Cinema , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989.
On CARNÉ: articles—
Manvell, Roger, "Marcel Carné," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1946.
Lodge, J.F., "The Cinema of Marcel Carné," in Sequence (London), December 1946.
Lambert, Gavin, "Marcel Carné," in Sequence (London), Spring 1948.
Michel, J., "Carné ou la Clé des songes," in Cinéma (Paris), no.12, 1956.
Sadoul, Georges, "Les Films de Marcel Carné, expression de notre époque," in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 1 March 1956.
Stanbrook, Alan, "The Carné Bubble," in Film (London), November/December 1959.
"Carné Issue" of Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), Winter 1972.
Turk, Edward Baron, "The Birth of Children of Paradise," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), July/August 1979.
" Le Quai des brumes Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 October 1979.
Gillett, John, "Salute to a French Master," in Radio Times (London), 2 March 1985.
Virmaux, A., and O. Virmaux, "La malediction: Le film inachève de Carné et Prevert," in Cinématographe (Paris), October 1986.
Thoraval, Yves, "Marcel Carné: Un Parisian à Toulouse," in Cinéma (Paris), 14 January 1987.
Kolker, Robert Phillip, "Carné's Les Portes de la nuit and the Sleep of French Cinema," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Fall 1987.
Charity, Tom, "Heaven Sent," in Time Out (London), 18 August 1993.
Obituary, in Sequences (Haute-Ville), November/December 1996.
Obituary, in Film en Televisie (Brussels), December 1996.
Palm, Stina, "En stillbild ur Marcel Carnés 'Pradisets barn,"' in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 38, 1996–1997.
Bates, Robin, "Audiences on the Verge of a Fascist Breakdown: Male Anxieties and Late 1930s French Film," in Cinema Journal (Austin), Spring 1997.
* * *
At a time when film schools were non-existent and training in filmmaking was acquired through assistantship, no one could have been better prepared for a brilliant career than Marcel Carné. He worked as assistant to René Clair on the first important French sound film, Sous les toits de Paris , and to Jacques Feyder on the latter's three great films of 1934–35. Though he had also made a successful personal documentary, Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche , and a number of publicity shorts, it was only thanks to the support of Feyder and his wife, the actress Françoise Rosay, that Carné was able to make his debut as a feature filmmaker with Jenny in 1936. If this was a routine melodrama, Carné was able in the next three years to establish himself as one of Europe's leading film directors.
During the period up to the outbreak of war in 1939 Carné established what was to be a ten-year collaboration with the poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert, and gradually built up a team of collaborators—including the designer Alexandre Trauner and composer Maurice Jaubert—which was unsurpassed at this period. In quick succession Carné made the comedy Drole de drame , which owes more to Prévert's taste for systematic absurdity and surreal gags than to the director's professionalism, and a trio of fatalistic romantic melodramas, Quai des brumes, Hotel du nord and Le Jour se lève. These are perfect examples of the mode of French filmmaking that had been established by Jacques Feyder: a concern with visual style and a studio-created realism, a reliance on detailed scripts with structure and dialogue separately elaborated, and a foregrounding of star performers to whom all elements of decor and photography are subordinate. Though the forces shaping a character's destiny may be outside his or her control, the story focuses on social behavior and the script offers set-piece scenes and confrontations and witty or trenchant dialogue that enables the stars to display their particular talents to the full.
The various advocates of either Prévert or Carné have sought to make exclusive claims as to which brought poetry to the nebulous and ill-defined "poetic realism" that these films are said to exemplify. In retrospect, however, these arguments seem over-personalized, since the pair seem remarkably well-matched. The actual differences seem less in artistic approach than in attitude to production. From the first, Carné, heir to a particular mode of quality filmmaking, was concerned with an industry, a technique, a career. Prévert, by contrast, though he is a perfect example of the archetypal 1930s screenwriter, able to create striking star roles and write dazzling and memorable dialogue, is not limited to this role and has a quite separate identity as surrealist, humorist and poet.
The pair share a certain fantastic conception of realism, with film seen as a studio construct in which fidelity to life is balanced by attention to a certain poetic atmosphere. Carné's coldly formal command of technique is matched by Prévert's sense of the logic of a tightly woven narrative. If it is Prévert's imagination that allows him to conceive both the amour fou that unites the lovers and the grotesque villains who threaten it, it is Carné's masterly direction of actors that turns Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan into the 1930s ideal couple and draws such memorable performances from Michel Simon, Jules Berry and Arletty.
The collaboration of Prévert and Carné was sustained during the very different circumstances of the German Occupation, when they together made two films that rank among the most significant of the period. Since films in the mode of 1930s poetic realism were now banned, it is hardly surprising that Carné and Prévert should have found the need to adopt a radically new style. Remaining within the concept of the studio-made film, but leaving behind the contemporary urban gloom of Le Jour se lève , they opted for a style of elaborate and theatrical period spectacle. The medieval fable of Les Visiteurs du soir was an enormous contemporary success but it has not worn well. Working with very limited resources the filmmakers—assisted clandestinely by Trauner and the composer Joseph Kosma—succeeded in making an obvious prestige film, a work in which Frenchmen could take pride at a dark moment of history. But despite the presence of such players as Arletty and Jules Berry, the overall effect is ponderous and stilted.
Carné's masterpiece is Les Enfants du paradis , shot during the war years but released only after the Liberation. Running for over three hours and comprising two parts, each of which is of full feature length, Les Enfants du paradis is one of the most ambitious films ever undertaken in France. Set in the twin worlds of theatre and crime in nineteenth century Paris, this all-star film is both a theatrical spectacle in its own right and a reflection on the nature of spectacle. The script is one of Prévert's richest, abounding in wit and aphorism, and Carné's handling of individual actors and crowd scenes is masterly. The sustained vitality and dynamism of the work as it moves seemingly effortlessly from farce to tragedy, from delicate love scenes to outrageous buffoonery, is exemplary, and its impact is undimmed by the years.
Marcel Carné was still only thirty-six and at the height of his fame when the war ended. Younger than most of those who now came to the fore, he had already made masterly films in two quite different contexts and it seemed inevitable that he would continue to be a dominant force in French cinema despite the changed circumstances of the postwar era. But in fact the first post-war Carné-Prévert film, Les Portes de la nuit , was an expensive flop. When a subsequent film, La Fleur de l'âge , was abandoned shortly after production had begun, one of the most fruitful partnerships in French cinema came to an end. Carné directed a dozen more films, from La Marie du port in 1950 to La Merveilleuse Visite in 1973, but he was no longer a major force in French filmmaking.
Marcel Carné was an unfashionable figure long before his directing career came to an end. Scorned by a new generation of filmmakers, Carné grew more and more out of touch with contemporary developments, despite an eagerness to explore new subjects and use young performers. His failure is a measure of the gulf that separates 1950s and 1960s conceptions of cinema from the studio era of the war and immediate prewar years. He was, however, the epitome of this French studio style, its unquestioned master, even if—unlike Renoir—he was unable to transcend its limitations. While future critics are unlikely to find much to salvage from the latter part of his career, films like Drole de drame and Quai des brumes, Le Jour se lève and Les Enfants du paradis , remain rich and complex monuments to a decade of filmmaking that will reward fresh and unbiased critical attention.