Jacques PrÉvert - Writer





Writer. Nationality: French. Born: Jacques Henri Marie Prévert in Neuilly-sur-Seine, 4 February 1900. Military Service: 1920–21. Family: Brother of the director Pierre Prévert. Married 1) Simone

Jacques Prévert (2nd from right)
Jacques Prévert (2nd from right)
Dienne, 1925; 2) Janine Tricotet, 1947. Career: 1915–20—worked in Bon Marché and other stores in Paris; worked for Argus de la Presse, 1921, and for the publicity agency Damour, 1930; author of plays, verse, songs, and, from 1932, film scripts; 1936—began ten-year collaboration with the director Marcel Carné. Died: In Omonvillela-Petite, 11 April 1977.

Films as Writer:

1932

L'Affaire est dans le sac ( It's in the Bag ) (P. Prévert) (+ ro); Ténériffe (Y. Allégret—short)

1933

Ciboulette (Autant-Lara); Comme une carpe (Heyman—short)

1934

L'Hotel du libre échange (M. Allégret)

1935

Un Oiseau rare (Pottier)

1936

My Partner Mr. Davis ( The Mysterious Mr. Davis ) (Autant-Lara); Jeunesse d'abord (Stelli); Jenny (Carné); Mantonnet (Sti); Le Crime de Monsieur Lange ( The Crime of Monsieur Lange ) (Renoir)

1937

Drôle de drame ( Bizarre Bizarre ) (Carné)

1938

Quai des brumes ( Port of Shadows ) (Carné); Ernest le rebelle ( C'était moi ) (Christian-Jaque)

1939

Le Jour se lève ( Daybreak ) (Carné)

1941

Remorques ( Stormy Waters ) (Grémillon); Le Soleil a toujours raison (Billon)

1942

Les Visiteurs du soir ( The Devil's Envoys ) (Carné)

1943

Lumière d'été (Grémillon); Adieu Leonard (P. Prévert)

1944

Sortiléges ( The Bellman ) (Christian-Jaque)

1945

Les Enfants du paradis ( Children of Paradise ) (Carné)

1946

Les Portes de la nuit ( Gates of the Night ) (Carné); Aubervilliers (Lotar—short); Voyage-Surprise (P. Prévert); Une Partie de campagne (Renoir)

1947

L'Arche de Noé (Jacques)

1948

Le Petit Soldat (Grimault—anim)

1949

Les Amants de Vérone ( The Lovers of Verona ) (Cayatte)

1950

"La Statuette" and "Le Violon" eps. of Souvenirs perdus (Christian-Jaque)

1951

Bim, le petit âne (Lamorisse—short) (commentary)

1956

Notre-Dame de Paris ( The Hunchback of Notre Dame ) (DeLannoy)

1958

La Faim du monde (Grimault—anim); Paris mange son pain (P. Prévert—short)

1959

Paris la belle (P. Prévert—revised version of short produced 1928)

1960

Les Primitifs du XIII (Bilbeaud—short)

1961

Les Amours célèbres (Boisrond)

1964

Le Petit Claus et le grand Claus (P. Prévert)

1965

La Maison du passeur (P. Prévert)

1966

A la belle étoile (P. Prévert)

1980

Le Roi et l'oiseau ( The King and the Bird ) (Grimault—incorporates footage from repudiated film La Bergère et le ramoneur , 1952)

Publications

By PRÉVERT: poetry—

Paroles , Paris, 1945, as Selections from Paroles , San Francisco, 1958.

With André Verdet, Histoires , Paris, 1946.

C'est à Saint-Paul-de-Vence , Paris, 1949.

Spectacle , Paris, 1951.

La Pluie et le beau temps , Paris, 1955.

Lumières d'hommes , Paris, 1955.

Images , Paris, 1957.

Poèmes , edited by J.H. Douglas and D.J. Girard, 1961.

Fatras , Paris, 1965.

Blood and Feathers: Selected Poems of Jacques Prévert , translated by Harriet Zinnes, Mount Kisco, NY, Moyer Bell, 1993.


By PRÉVERT: other books—

Enfants , 1945.

Le Rendez-vous (ballet), 1945.

With André Verdet and André Virel, Le Cheval de Troie , Paris, 1946.

Le Petit Lion , Paris, 1947.

Contes pour enfants pas sages , Paris, 1947.

Les Visiteurs du soir (script), Paris, 1947.

Les Amants de Verone (script), Paris, 1948.

Des Bêtes , Paris, 1950.

Charmes de Londres , Paris, 1952.

Grand bal de printemps , Paris, 1952.

Lettre des îles Baladar , Paris, 1952.

L'Opéra de la lune , Paris, 1952.

Miró , Paris, 1956.

Bim, le petit âne , Paris, 1951, as Bim, the Little Donkey , London, 1957.

Portrait de Picasso , Paris, 1959.

Couleur de Paris , Paris, 1961, as Paris in Colour , London, 1962.

Diurnes , Paris, 1962.

Histoires, et d'autre histoires , Paris, 1963.

Les Chiens ont soif , Paris, 1964.

Le Jour se lève (script) in Avant-Scène (Paris), November 1965,

translated as Le Jour se lève , New York, 1970.

Arbres , Paris, 1968.

Children of Paradise (script), New York, 1968, as Les Enfants du paradis , London, 1968.

Varengeville , Paris, 1968.

Imaginaires , Paris, 1970.

Choses et autres , Paris, 1972.

With André Pozner, Hebdomadaires (interviews), Paris, 1972, revised edition 1982.

Drôle de drame (script), Paris, 1974.

Arbres , 1976.

Le Quai des brumes (script) in Avant-Scène (Paris), 15 October 1979.


On PRÉVERT: books—

Amengual, Barthélémy, Prévert, du cinéma , Algiers, 1952.

Queval, Jean, Jacques Prévert , Paris, 1955.

Guillot, Gérard, (ed.), Les Préverts , Paris, 1966.

Baker, William E., Jacques Prévert , 1967.

Greet, Anne Hyde, Jacques Prévert's Word Games , 1968.

Bergens, Andrée, Jacques Prévert , Paris, 1969.

Fauré, Michel, Le Groupe Octobre , Paris, 1977.

Rachline, Michel, Jacques Prévert , Paris, 1981.

Blakeway, Claire, Jacques Prévert: Popular French Theatre and Cinema , London, 1990.

Gilson, René, Les Mots et merveilles, Jacques Prévert , Paris, 1990 + filmo.

Sieber, Anja, Vom Hohn zur Angst: Die Sozialkritik Jacques Préverts in den Filmen von Marcel Carne , Rodenbach, Avinus Verlag, 1993.

Andry, Marc, Jacques Prévert , Paris, Editions de Fallois, 1994 + filmo.

Gasiglia-Laster, Daniele, Jacques Prévert: Celui qui rouge de coeur , Paris, Seguier, 1994.


On PRÉVERT: articles—

Leenhardt, Roger, in Fontaine (Paris), May 1945.

Rougeuil, J., and M. Sergines, "Les Préverts," in Ecran (Paris), 25 September 1946.

Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1946–47.

Laroche, Pierre, Jean-Paul Le Chanois, and Georges Sadoul, in Ciné-Club (Paris), January 1949.

Queval, Jean, in Mercure de France (Paris), 1 June 1949.

Nadal, Pierre, "Carné, Prévert, et le reportage," in Raccords (Paris), April 1950.

Cinémonde (Paris), 7 August 1953.

Chaboud, Charles, in Image et Son (Paris), October-November 1956.

Brunelin, André G., in Cinéma (Paris), November 1959.

Bazin, André, " Le Jour se lève ," in Regards neufs sur le cinéma , Paris, 1963.

Tabes, René, in Télé-Revue (Paris), 20 October 1963.

"Les Frères Prévert Issue" of Image et Son (Paris), December 1965.

Durgnat, Raymond, in Films and Filming (London), July 1969.

Cinéma (Paris), June 1977.

Film Comment (New York), November-December 1981.

"Prévert Issue" of Filmkritik (Munich), August 1983.

Brunius, Jacques, in En marge du cinéma française , Lausanne, 1987.

Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1988.

Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1991.

Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1991.

Cineforum , vol. 32, no. 318, 1992.

Curchod, Olivier, and others, "Partie de campagne de Jean Renoir," in Positif (Paris), February 1995.

Télérama (Paris), 21 February 1996.

French Review , October 1997.


* * *


For convinced auteurists, Jacques Prévert comes as something of a stumbling block. With Prévert as scriptwriter, Marcel Carné directed several supreme classics of French cinema; when the two split up, Carné sank into obscure mediocrity. A bas Carné, then, cold and formal craftsman helplessly limited by his material, and vive Prévert, true begetter of Le Jour se lève and Les Enfants du paradis ? And yet—if Prévert scripted Carné's greatest successes, he also wrote Les Portes de la nuit , the disastrous postwar flop from which neither of their careers ever recovered. And if Carné minus Prévert looks flat and uninspired, Prévert's scripts for other directors—with one or two exceptions—rarely attained the level of his best work with Carné.

Barthélémy Amengual split Prévert the scriptwriter into three periods: there was Prévert rosse (a tough word to translate—"offensive" or "bloody-minded" might get near it), Prévert noir , and Prévert rose . Prévert rosse was the subversive, tossing surrealist firecrackers under the wheels of bourgeois ceremonial. Prévert noir was the poet of melancholy, the fatalist whose doomed lovers succumbed to the machinations of Destiny. And Prévert rose purveyed charming, sentimental fables in which oppression is overthrown by the forces of love and good-hearted innocence. The Carné films were evidently the work of Prévert noir —with the exception of Drôle de drame , seen by Amengual as the last fling of Prévert rosse .

Prévert's roots were deep in the interwar leftist avant-garde. He was a member of the Surrealist group—until expelled by Breton for irreverence—and of the agit-prop theatre Groupe Octobre. His Marxism, though, owed nearly as much to Groucho as to Karl. The same delight in puns and wordplay, in jokes and fantasy deployed in the cause of class warfare which fuelled his poetry, bubbles through the early films— Drôle de drame , far more Prévert than Carné, and L'Affaire est dans le sac , first of the three directed by his brother Pierre, and Prévert's own favourite of all his films.

For his only completed feature with Renoir, Prévert rechanneled his exuberance into a more controlled political stance. Le Crime de Monsieur Lange , witty, touching, and bright with the new-found hope of the Front Populaire, shows both Renoir and Prévert operating near the top of their form, and arouses regret that two men with so much in common worked together so little. Too much in common, perhaps. "It's wonderful, but it's left me nothing to do," commented Renoir on Prévert's script for Une Partie de campagne —which therefore remained the most perfect of all incomplete movies.

The necessary creative tension seems to have been more fruitfully present in the relationship between Prévert and Carné, spurring them both into producing their finest work. In Quai des brumes , Le Jour se lève , Les Visiteurs du soir and Les Enfants du paradis , the smoky, shimmering malaise and colloquial lyricism of Prévert's scripts meld with Carné's cool technique and superb handling of actors into some of the richest masterpieces of romantic cinema. Their bittersweet fatalism, distillation of the political mood of the period, has sometimes been seen as imposed on Prévert by Carné's pessimism. "Carné never really believed in happiness," Ivo Jarosy asserted; "Prévert believed in nothing else." An oversimplification, perhaps. But certainly the outcome of the Prévertian eternal triangle—a man, a woman, and Fate—tended to be less invariably doom-laden in the hands of other directors, as for example Grémillon ( Remorques, Lumière d'été ).

Even at his darkest, though, Prévert never indulged in the unrelieved, misanthropic pessimism that often distorted the work of Duvivier or Clouzot. For him the power of friendship, of art, above all of love could always transcend the forces of oppression, and even ultimately death. This Tristan-and-Isolde view of love as transfiguring, eternal, and self-justifying can slide at times perilously close to mush, as in Visiteurs du soir 's closing image of the entwined statues whose hearts still beat, or in Baptiste's statement ( Les Enfants du paradis ), "If all the people who live together loved each other, the earth would shine like the sun." It can also lead into some fairly questionable morality. "Everything is allowed to those who love each other"—a sentiment that Penn's Bonnie and Clyde ("They're young, they're in love, and they kill people") would have wholeheartedly applauded.

Prévert's greatest achievement as a scriptwriter lies in his transmutation of ordinary, banal speech into a lyrical street poetry, reinvesting clichés with their original emotional truth. His characters speak, not perhaps as the ordinary people of Paris ever do speak, but how they might wish to at their most eloquent. Through subtleties of rhythm, wordplay, and repetition, commonplaces acquire unsuspected resonance. Quotation is problematic, since so much depends on inflection and context, and translation tends to flatten the lines back into banality; but something of the fury of the beleaguered Gabin haranguing the crowd below his window in Le Jour se lève still comes through: "Mais oui, je suis un assassin! Mais les assassins, ça courent les rues! Il y en a partout! Partout! Tout le monde tue! Tout le monde tue un petit peu, seulement on tue à douceur, alors ça ne se voit pas!" [That's right, I'm a murderer! But the streets are running with murderers! They're everywhere! Everybody kills—only quietly, bit by bit, so it doesn't show!] Or, from the same film, Arletty describing Jules Berry: "C'est formidable ce qu'il cause bien, cet homme-là. Il a un façon de remuer les mains en parlant—souvent les mots, vous croiriez qu'il les sort de ses manches." [It's wonderful how he can talk, that man. He's got a way of moving his hands—you'd think he had the words hidden up his sleeves.] And immediately the image comes of Berry (whom we have just met on stage putting trained dogs through their paces) as a conjuror, or a card sharp, fluently dealing out words like marked cards off a crooked deck.

For some ten years, from 1935 to 1945, Prévert was probably the greatest single influence on French cinema. Not everyone has thought it an influence for good. Claude Mauriac referred disparagingly to "le virus Prévert," and Truffaut, in his famous Cahiers onslaught on the "tradition de qualité," wrote "one takes to regretting Prévert's scenarios. He believed in the Devil, thus in God. . . ." Prévert can be—and has been—faulted for an overschematic morality, for characters neatly divided into executioners or victims, for reflex anticlericalism and a sentimental idealization of the working class, for theatricality, for the moments when the streetwise poetics of his dialogue topple into pretension or bathos. None of these charges is without substance. Yet they diminish when set against his qualities: the dramatic vigour, the richness of narrative texture, the warmth and compassion of his characterisation, the brilliance and humour of his dialogue, lyricism flowering from the disregarded rubbish-tips of everyday speech. Few screenwriters have served their actors better; to have furnished Gabin, Arletty, Barrault, and Jules Berry with their finest screen roles is a formidable achievement. If it is true, as Jacques Brunius attested, that Prévert's greatest scenarios remained unfilmed, "imprisoned in drawers," the loss is considerable.

—Philip Kemp



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