Critics' Pick

Port of Shadows (Le Quai des brumes) (NR)

Drama 91 February 1, 2013
By Alan Scherstuhl
Attacked by Mussolini as “morbid” and “depraved,” then chopped up by fools shaken that its horny ennui and such-is-life tragedies didn’t ennoble the French national character, Marcel Carné’s Port of Shadows, first released in 1938, remains a ravishing pleasure all these years later. That is, if we can apply the word “pleasure” to a film that so adeptly orchestrates for its cast the grimmest of endings. Like most of its suffering characters, who stalk the fog-shrouded Le Havre shipyards in search of any scrap of momentary happiness, the bleak and sensual Port of Shadows was doomed from the get-go: Here, as nationalism gripped Europe, was a glum noir about a French army deserter (Jean Gabin) getting embroiled with the lowliest of his countrymen: quayside thugs, murderers, and suicides. Unlike those weary salts, though, the film is at least enjoying a capital afterlife, especially in this gorgeous digital restoration, where the murk is always crisp and ravishing. (The subtitles are also new, freshly translated from the French by Lenny Borger.) Happily, he also meets a lovesick 17-year-old played by Michèle Morgan, aglow in her transparent raincoat, and a quick-witted fox terrier. Scenes snipped long ago have, over the decades, been spliced back in, but no full print of Carné’s original exist; on occasion, a sequence still seems to be missing, but the lacunae are in their way fitting. Carné’s people are forever looking for the moments the matter.
Marcel Carné, Marcel Carné Jean Gabin, Michèle Morgan, Michel Simon, Pierre Brasseur, Michèle Morgan Jacques Prévert, Pierre Mac Orlan, Jacques Prévert Gregor Rabinovitch Rialto Pictures


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