Le Quai des Brumes
Love stories have always been a central facet of cinema culture. However, it is a rare occasion when you observe an on-screen chemistry between a pair of actors that really sets the screen alive. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s relationship in the 1942 classic Casablanca is a perfect example and, even seventy years on, you would find it hard not to be mesmerised by their electrifying on-screen presence.
The romance between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman is another leading example. This extra spark, it would appear, cannot simply be acted; sometimes actors just seem to have a chemistry that works.
A precursor to these celebrated instances of movie romance is found in the 1938 French classic, Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows), set for re-release in selected UK cinemas on 4th May. It is a dark thriller infused with gangsters, bohemians and down-and-out drunkards set in Le Havre. At its centre is a love tale, where seventeen-year-old Nelly (Michelle Morgan) falls for the robust army-man heart-throb Jean (Jean Gabin). Over the course of the film, we observe a captivating dialogue between the pair. Their conversations mostly consist of bleak musings of the nature of existence and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with relationships. Nevertheless, they have the audience hanging on their every word. Their bittersweet chemistry is understated but, at the same time, hypnotising; the chemistry between Gabin and Morgan deserves to go down in movie history.
The photography of Le Quai des Brumes deserves a special mention. Richly atmospheric shots of a foggy, desolate landscape punctuate a film the storyline of which is equally haunting and melancholic. Interestingly, the film also has a darkly comic characteristic. Aside from Jean and Nelly’s romance, we observe the surreal ruminations of a number of characters, including a drunkard whose only ambition is to “someday sleep between clean sheets in a clean bed” and a suicidal artist – who could not paint a swimmer without seeing him drown, and so drowned himself.
On its initial release in 1938, Le Quai des Brumes was a critical and commercial success. However, at the outbreak of World War II, it was banned for being immoral, depressing and detrimental to young people. This is fascinating. Over the course of the film we see gunfights and a murder, but not a glimpse of blood or any disturbing imagery. In today’s gory, trigger-happy movie world, it is difficult to imagine that a film which only contains mere suggestions of violence could cause so much controversy.
While Le Quai des Brumes has the potential to appeal to art-house movie lovers, I also recommend it to anyone that simply enjoys a good love story.
Le Quai des Brumes is re-released in select cinemas on 4th May 2012.
Watch the trailer for Le Quai des Brumes here: