Esponente di primo piano della generazione di poeti post-surrealista e
contemporanea all'esistenzialismo, influenzata dal teatro dell'assurdo e pregna dei valori resistenziali, che
annovera anche Char, Michaux e Ponge, Jacques Prévert è il secondo poeta, dopo
Cocteau, a cimentarsi con successo nel cinema; per quanto il suo contributo non sia mai andato al di
là della sceneggiatura, Prévert ha impresso al realismo poetico il tono anti-accademico,
colloquiale e popolare; tenero e malinconico; umano ed erotico; semplice ed emotivo; tipico della sua
poesia, che già aveva applicato con esiti bizzarri e suggestivi al teatro e alla canzone (musiche di
Joseph Kosma). Nel cinema trovò il primo? ideale per la sua critica del potere condotta attraverso
l'assurdo, per i suoi dialoghi brillanti e graffianti, condotti attraverso i luoghi comuni del parigino medio,
per il suo mondo manicheo e metaforico condotto attraverso una galleria di esistenze trasfigurate.
Esordì nel 1932 scrivendo per il fratello Pierre il testo L'affaire est dans le sac. Farsa amara, assurda poetica. Nel 1935 lavorò con Renoir per Le crime de Monsieur Lange (strana sorta di film noir infarcito di gag sarcastiche) e nel 1936 iniziò la collaborazione con Marcel Carné (prima critico cinematografico che propugnava un cinema populista, poi assistente di Feyder, infine curatore di film pubblicitari e documentarista che si sarebbe protratta per nove film e per dodici anni.
Prévert trovò in Carné il cineasta in grado di trasfigurare sullo schermo le sue invenzioni letterarie, conferendo una drammatica consistenza visiva alla sua visione fantastica della realtà. I loro film furono perciò delle variazioni sul tema centrale del male trionfante, al quale fa da sfondo una società nemica e crudele, o, se si preferisce, tema complementare dell'amore immortale, al quale fa da sfondo il sogno di una impossibile redenzione. Sempre col dito puntato contro la società, la coppia Prévert-Carné espresse una morale funesta, che rispecchiava il pessimismo seguito alla fine del Fronte Popolare e al governo di Vichy. Il loro eroe-tipo è un operaio trasformato in criminale dall'ingiustizia della società, che sogna un paradiso terrestre dove l'amore sia possibile, ma a cui si oppone il Destino. Il surrealismo di Prévert si stempera in un cupo fatalismo esistenziale, il populismo di Carné in un'ideologia simbolista. E l'operaio, decantato dai canoni estetici del Fronte, decade a pura astrazione, vittima dei due grandi enti metafisici, il Destino e l'Amore, che affronta stoicamente la disfatta.
Jenny (1936), un melodramma sentimentale, e Drole de Drame (1937), spumeggiante commedia degli equivoci (nella quale a un certo punto un uomo, che ha un nome e uno pseudonimo, sotto il suo vero nome deve fingere di essere un assassino, e sotto lo pseudonimo deve indagare proprio su quell'omicidio) preludono a Quai des Brumes (1938).
Dopo che Carné ebbe dato sfogo alle sue vogue populiste dirigendo in perfetta solitudine il bozzettistico e pittoresco Hotel du Nord, la coppia si riunì per allestire Le Jour Se Leve (1939), resoconto ossessivamente in stile di Kammerspiel delle ultime ore di vita di un operaio onesto (Gabin), che, barricato in una stanza e circondato dalla polizia, passa in rassegna i momenti che lo hanno spinto a uccidere per gelosia, prima di suicidarsi alle prime ore dall'alba. Di flash-back in flash-back (il tempo scorre lentamente) affiorano i simboli metafisici del Destino (il cielo, l'alba).
Early in the morning he went to work at the foundry as usual on his bicycle. A young florist named Francoise had come to bring flowers for the manager's wife. Francois and Francoise had found out that they were both orphans. Francois started seeing Francoise but one evening followed her to a cafe, where she met a middle-aged animal trainer, Valentin. That night Valentin's assistant and previous lover, the unhibited Clara, walked out on Valentin, tired of his lies and his womanizing.
The guards try to shoot their way into Francois' apartment but he barricades himself with an armoir.
Then he resumes his recollections. He started dating the sensual Clara. Two months later Valentin showed up demanding a clarification. Valentin knew that Francois was still seeing Francoise while sleeping with Clara. Valentin claimed to be Francoise's long-lost father and expressed his disapproval for their relationship, as Francois' job at the foundry had no future and was likely to result in death or injury. Francois hated him even more for being the father who abandoned her in an orphanage and defiantly stated that he loved Francoise.
Francoise told Francois that it was a lie: Valentin was not her father, just someone who had been nice to her. Francois asked her to get rid of him, and in return promised to get rid of Clara. Clara took it with little drama.
A crowd has assembled around the building: it's his coworkers and friends, who are ready to stand by him. Francoise also arrives but she faints when she realizes what is going on. Ironically, it's Clara who takes care of her. The cops receive more reinforcements and begin to push back the crowd.
The final flashback shows how Valentin, desperate that Francoise was avoiding him, went to visit Francois hiding a gun in his coat. He failed to convince Francois with his sweet talk. Then he started boasting of having had sex with Francoise. Francois lost his temper, grabbed Valentin's gun and shot him.
Francois grabs the same gun and points it to himself. Two cops have climbed the roof to throw tear-gas grenades into the apartment, but Francois has already killed himself.
La leggenda medievale Le Visiteurs du Soir (1942), traboccante di simboli, con tanto di demonio, castellano e menestrello, e Lumiere d'ete (1943, diretto da Gremillon) sono i primi film di Prévert in cui l'amore alla fine trionfa (fosse anche per fuggire alla censura del regime, che non tollerava disfattismi).
Les Enfants Du Paradis (1945) si serve del grande (oltre che attore e regista teatrale) mimo Jean-Louis Barrault per evocare un'atmosfera delicatamente ambigua, che può ospitare tanto l'amore quanto il delitto. Al solito tema del destino (la tragica filosofia fatalistica Francese) Prévert associò la nostalgia, alla ricerca di un Olimpo perduto che è per simmetria l'immagine speculare della fine ineluttabile. Una Parigi ottocentesca da romanzo d'appendice fa da sfondo all'ascesa del mimo e dell'attore e al loro amore per la stessa ragazza.
Garance walks into the store of a public scribe, who actually runs a criminal gang when he doesn't help illiterate men write their letters. Pierre-Francois is a nihilist: he hates everybody and pledges to become a murderer. He is fully aware that he will end up on the guillotine, and proud of it. He tells Garance he doesn't love her. Garance tells him that she finds him amusing like a show at the theater. Pierre-Francois is, in fact, writing a comedy for the theater. After Pierre-Francois sells his loot to the ugly Jericho (so called because he always carries a trumpet), they walk together back into the crazy boulevard and stop by a booth where a pompous man, Anselme, invites the crowd to enter the theater and makes fun of his retarded son Baptiste, who is sitting next to the door, staring at the crowd without showing any sign of intelligence. A fat bourgeois laughs at him while Pierre-Francois steals his gold watch. When the fat man realizes that the watch is gone, he accuses Garance of being the thief and calls the police. There are no witnesses and the guards are about to arrest Garance, when a voice calls their attention: it's the "retarded" Baptiste, who turns out to be a mime. He mimes what happened to the police and to the crowd. Garance is released and thanks the mime with a flower.
Jericho sells his merchandise to the musichall that looks like a mini-circus with clowns and acrobats getting ready for their show. One of them is the beautiful Nathalie, who is sad because she is not desired by the man she loves. Jericho reads her palm and kindly foretells her marriage to her beloved one. Frederick walks in and tells Nathalie that he would like to talk to the manager. The manager is hysterical because his circus is torn apart by the rivalry between two families. Backstage Frederick watches the pantomime that Nathalie and Anselme are enacting on stage in front of a rowdy crowd. When Anselme is hit too hard by an actor who belongs to the other family, Anselme calls his family to his aid, and the other calls his family, and the two families of actor, midgets and acrobats engage in a colossal fight on stage. The manager lowers the curtain. The audience boos and demands their money back. Frederick volunteers to save the show by interpreting a popular skit as a lion. They need a Pierrot for that skit and, against the opposition of Anselme, they decide to send Baptiste on stage. Baptiste is talking with Nathalie: it's Baptiste the man she loves. Baptiste is shy and aloof: he likes her but does not love her. He admits that he is in love with another woman, the stranger who gave him the flower (and whom he had already seen as the "truth").
Frederick drinks with Baptiste to celebrate their debut on stage. Frederick is convinced that playing the lion was just the first step towards great dramatic achievements: he dreams of playing all the great men who lived. Baptiste takes him to the madame from whom he rents a room, and Frederick takes a room in the same place, while flirting with the madame. Although it's already late, Baptiste leaves them to go out, and the madame tells Frederick that it happens every night. Baptiste meets a blind panhandler and starts chatting with him. They become friends and walk into a tavern together. People are dancing at the sound of a band that plays sprightly popular tunes. The blind man stops pretending and admits that he is not blind at all. Jericho walks in, trying to sell a book on the interpretation of dreams. He is disappointed to find Baptiste in such a dive and reproaches him. Pierre and Garance walk in. Baptiste is struck by lightning. Garance accepts to dance with him. Pierre, jealous, asks one of his gangsters to throw Baptiste out. Baptiste walks back in, beats up the gangster and offers to take Garance home. Pierre doesn't seem too upset: he is more interested in planning the next heist.
Baptiste learns that Garance doesn't have a home. He takes her to the same madame, who eventually shows up while she's still buttoning her vest (a sign that she was having sex with Frederick). Garance undresses in front of Baptiste who doesn't know what to do, other than tell her how much he loves her. She tells him that she is not the dream woman he thinks. Minutes later she proves it, when she meets Frederick, who is staying in the room next to her, and after exchanging just a few sentences she is ready to sleep with him.
Baptiste becomes a star. His own father now advertises him as a great mime. Baptiste has designed his own pantomime. In the lengthy sequence he as Pierrot falls in love with a statue, which is played by Garance. Frederick as Harlequin seduces the statue that comes alive and follows him. Everybody thinks that Baptiste is enjoying the success, but Nathalie understands that his stories are allegories for the desperation that is in his heart. Nathalie is desperate because Baptiste does not love her; Baptiste is desperate because Garance does not love him; Garance, in turn, is unhappy with Frederick; and Frederick is unhappy to be a mime: his dream is to be an actor. Frederick breaks the chain of heartbroken people because he is a selfish and cold-hearted womanizer, while the others are looking for more.
During the pantomime another man has fallen in love with Garance: the wealthy and powerful count Edouard. He visits her backstage offering her a fortune if she will become his mistress. She is disgusted and throws him out. Baptiste makes a scene, talking about death. Nathalie overhears and tells him that they are made to live together, but clearly Baptiste is not listening to her heart.
Introduced by Garance, Pierre has rented a room in the madame's establishment. The madame has a bad opinion of Garance and a good opinion of Frederick. Pierre is actually plotting to rob debt collectors in that room. The first one narrowly escapes, and Pierre has to flee. The madame suspects that Garance was an accomplice. The police arrest Garance, who can save herself only by invoking the help of the count.
Several years later Frederick has become a famous actor. He spends more than he makes, and has two girlfriends. He is chased by a crowd of anxious creditors, jealous husbands and abandoned lovers. On stage he provokes the authors by changing the script as it suits him. He makes fun of the inept comedy but his self-parody wins over the audience. The show is a big success but the authors demand his apologies. He challenges them to a duel at dawn. In his room he is met by Pierre, whom he doesn't know. Pierre demands money, as a matter of life or death. Frederick finds it amusing to give money to a complete stranger and obliges. Pierre explains that the matter of life or death was... his, Frederick's: Pierre was ready to cut his throat. Frederick is not too shocked to find out that the object of his generosity turns out to be a thief and a murderer. In fact, they become friends, and Pierre follows him to the duel at dawn. Frederick shows up drunk, but survives.
Days later Frederick wants to attend a performance by Baptiste. It is sold out, as usual, but a friend helps him get into the booth of a mysterious woman who comes to see Baptiste every night incognito. Frederick recognizes Garance. She has been living abroad with her count, but unhappy. Frederick realizes that Garance only loved Baptiste and is jealous for the first time in his life. Frederick walks back stage to reconnect with Baptiste. The mime who turned the pantomime into a respectable art is now married to Nathalie, who is finally happy. They have a child. Jericho walks in. He is now a pathetic misfit whom everybody shuns. There is a better dressed and educated man who provides the costumes to the theater. Jericho cries that nobody ever loved him and he lives alone. He is the one who foretold the future to Nathalie, the future that came true. Now he warns her that Garance has come back. In fact, Garance has asked Frederick to deliver a message to Baptiste: that she would like to say hello before she leaves again. Nathalie sends her child to Garance's booth to tell the femme fatale that they are now happy. Garance gets the message and exits the theater. In the meantime Frederick delivers the message to Baptiste, who looks at his wife in the eyes but then abandons the stage to rush to Garance's booth, only to find it empty. However, he has de facto confessed that Garance is still the biggest love of his life, despite all those years of happy marriage to his devout Nathalie.
At the count's mansion Garance is met by the perfidious Pierre. He is interested in the count, but more interested in his functions as a patron of the art than in his money. Pierre has become famous too, although as a criminal. On the way out Pierre briefly meets the count who is coming home, and the two almost challenge each other at a duel, but Pierre cynically tells the count that he doesn't risk his life in duels. The count is extremely jealous, and is very unhappy that he never conquered the heart of Garance. Garance admires him and is grateful to him, but makes no mystery that she only loved one man in her life.
That man, Baptiste, is alove in a small room of the madame's establishment. His show has been canceled. Nathalie inquires discreetly about his health, and is hopeful that he will eventually come back to her.
Garance has been told that Frederick, having finally felt what jealousy is, has decided to stage Shakespeare's "Othello". Garance attends the premiere with the count. The count is madly jealous of Frederick, even if Garance tells him that he's not the man she's in love with. Baptiste is also walking into the theater. At the end the count insists on meeting the protagonist. Garance, left alone, sees Baptiste. The two walk to the veranda and kiss. Pierre has followed them and is determined to take his revenge on the count. The count is busy trying to provoke Frederick into a duel. Pierre insults him, but the count knows that Pierre does not accept duels, so the count simply asks the bouncers to throw him out. Pierre opens the curtains on the veranda (a mini-theater in its own) so that the whole crowd of aristocrats (the audience of this mini-theater) can witness Garance cheating on the count with Baptiste. The count, furious, challenges Frederick to a duel, even though Frederick had nothing to do with all of this, and even though he has just been presented with the evidence that Frederick is not the man with whom Garance is in love. Garance is indifferent to what will happen in the morning to two of the men who loved her: she now wants to spend the night with her one and only love, and the only one of all of them who has never slept with her.
There shall be no duel though: Pierre kills the count in the Turkish baths. Then calmly waits to be arrested, knowing that they will behead him for the murder. He has pride, as always.
When the lovers wake up, it's carnival in the boulevard: thousands of people dancing and singing, mostly dressed in costumes such as the ones used by the old musichall of Baptiste and Nathalie. Nathalie walks into their room begging Baptiste to attend to their child, who has been looking forward to the carnival and is dressed up for the occasion. Garance picks up her stuff and proceeds to leave the room. Nathalie confronts her telling her that it's too easy to come back after six years while another woman has been living day after day with Baptiste. Garance replies that she has lived with Baptiste in her mind every day; and then leaves them. Nathalie asks Baptiste if he too has thought of Garance every single day, even at night: Baptiste does not answer, but runs after Garance. He is engulfed in the crowd of the carnival, trapped by dozens of people dancing around him dressed like his Pierrot.
There is a lot of cinema (or theater) within the cinema. There is a continuous mirror game of audience and protagonist. The ultimate audience is the colorful crowd of the boulevard. The ultimate protagonist is Love.
Il "Boulevard du Crime" brulica di tipi pittoreschi; è un quartiere di artisti e di banditi, un continuo carnevale di costumi e di maschere. Ma il dolore della brava moglie commuove la ragazza, che decide di andarsene: e il povero Pierrot la insegue invano fra la folla di Pierrot che ha invaso le strade per il carnevale.
L'artista viene visto nel film secondo due accezioni diverse: l'attore è anarchico quanto il bandito; il mimo è Pierrot quanto l'uomo della strada. Le tre figure sono così identificate in un solo carattere: l'uomo comune, che la società può rendere a seconda delle circostanze criminale, genio o nullità. Sull'arte Prévert riflesse a lungo: Barrault recita Deburau che recita Pierrot; si rappresenta l'Otello, e fra le righe si può leggere effettivamente una parafrasi dell'Otello nella vicenda stessa del film (come di Romeo e Giulietta).
Prévert torna al tema solito con Les Portes de la Nuit (1946), melodramma borghese all'insegna del solito triangolo operaio-donna-marito geloso messo in moto da un viandante che predice la tragedia, l'ultimo film con Carné. Dopo la separazione Carné si dedica a un cinema antiquato e a volte scadente, mentre Prévert sceneggia ancora per diversi registi, (fino al 1958) ottenendo però risultati di un certo rilievo soltanto col fratello in Voyage surprise (1947), film comico ad inseguimento, e in La bergere et le ramoneur(1953) dell'animatore Paul Grimault. fiaba d'amore montata con infinita pazienza dall'autore e musicato da Joseph Kosma.
La poetica semplicità di Prévert fu, nel bene e nel male, il realismo poetico per eccellenza, espressione della malinconia elegante e fatalista dei cafè.
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