Le Jour se léve (1939)


  • directed by Marcel Carné
  • starring Jean Gabin, Jules Berry, Arletty, Jacqueline Laurent
  • After committing a murder, a man locks himself in his apartment and recollects the events the led him to the killing.

“We do what we can.”

Featuring a simple storyline and a ton of visual symbolism, Le jour se léve puts Jean Gabin in very familiar territory as far as Classixquest’s tour of Poetic Realism goes, in the midst of a dark, shadowy, murderous, yet romantic, set of circumstances. Unlike Port of Shadows and The Human Beast, however, we actually get to see a little of Gabin’s light shine through here. He actually smiles and carries out conversation in a playful, friendly manner in one scene, which after two bleak, cynical films, beamed like a lighthouse for me. That was all I got, though. This guy was clearly born for these types of performances and is such a strong presence on the screen but allow me to address you directly, fictional French women of 1930s cinema. Do not let this man fall in love with you. Sure, he’s handsome and very “French” with his smoking and his brooding, but love is nothing except for a reason to murder any threat large or small for Gabin’s Francois in this film and his characters in all the others.

This time around, Carné employs a more complex, time-jumping structure. We begin with the murder and then, while holed up in something of a single man hostage situation, Francois chain-smokes and reflects back on the twists that got him to that point. This time it was M. Valentin, brilliantly played with the perfect amount of slime by Jules Berry, that got under his skin. For me, the two women in the film did not really register. I bought that Francois was drawn to them and them he, but the film for me was solely Francois against himself, with Valentin doing his best to be the thorn in his side at the wrong moment.

Carné also fills what seemed like every shot with the visuals of mirror reflections and stark shadows. At one point as love is about to be made between Francois and one of his two ladies, Gabin even remarks something to the effect of “open the curtains, I like having the shadows.” This whole film was obviously an exploration of the light and dark halves of man. At some points the shadows and reflections were so emphasized, it was as if there was a separate movie going on in a different dimension.

Cinema has taught us all about the wonderful side of love; it can be a goofy, folly-filled experience, a forbidden emotion or untold secret that ends up satisfied, or the ULTIMATE life experience. Meanwhile in the real world on the negative spectrum it causes jealousy, bitterness, immaturity, and betrayal. If you’re Francois, you can think yourself to death thinking of how it could have all been steered towards better or worse–and he did (spoiler alert). But it’s these Poetic Realism films that I’ve seen so far that have the balls to take those negative aspects of love and have them rouse the darkest depths of the nature of these characters, absent of compassion and beyond where we regular folk would ever go.

Hey, this is pretty funny: RKO, who was behind the 1947 American remake The Long Night with Henry Fonda, attempted to have all original prints of Le jour se léve destroyed.


About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

One Response to Le Jour se léve (1939)

  1. Anonymous says:

    “…as love is about to be made…”?! C’mon Frank, you’re better than that.

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