Jean Gabin of La Grande Illusion (1938) was the Bogart of France, & is simply a stunning presence as the army deserter in Port of Shadows (1939).
Support roles, especially Michel Simon of Boudo Saved from Drowning (1932), here playing another grubby old man but deeply lonely instead of amusingly ungrateful, or Robert Le Vigan as the suicidal artist, & really just everyone, are across the board artful & riveting.
Director Marcel Carne, & his scriptwriter Jacques Prever who also combined talents for Children of the Paradise (1942), stand among the truest masters of world cinema.
Atmospheric sets & a score are likewise successful to the highest degree. It's true the love story element is pure melodrama (with Michele Morgan the French Lauren Bacall). Though I liked even that aspect of a complex beautifully written story, I might be tempted to knock one star off what would otherwise be a highest-rated classic just because this degree of gloominess can have an unintended parodic effect, & such wrenching melodrama demands some forgiveness.
But the samurai stoicism of Gabin's character, as he labors under life's endless curse, is a marvel to behold. His chance encounters & conversations are like lower-class poetry. And the starkly horrible world of night & shadow is incredibly aesthetic, like a Romanticist hell.
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