- New digital transfer with restored image and sound plus new subtitle translation
- Poster gallery
- 32-page booklet including a new essay by acclaimed cultural historian Luc Sante
Port of Shadows
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Down a foggy, desolate road to the port city of Le Havre travels Jean (Jean Gabin), an army deserter looking for another chance to make good on life. Fate, however, has a different plan for him, when acts of both revenge and kindness turn him into front-page news. Also starring the blue-eyed phenomenon Michèle Morgan in her first major role, and the menacing Michel Simon, Port of Shadows (Le Quai des brumes) starkly portrays an underworld of lonely souls wrestling with their own destinies. Based on the novel by Pierre Mac Orlan, the inimitable team of director Marcel Carné and writer Jacques Prévert deliver a quintessential example of poetic realism, one of the classics of the golden age of French cinema.
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Jean (Jean Gabin) is a military deserter who stumbles into the fog-shrouded town of Le Havre, looking to get out of the country. The foggy landscape is an atmospheric foreshadowing of what will unfold for the characters. Jean, who finds himself accompanied by a small dog (one of the most loyal, loveable canine's I've seen on film), finds shelter in a shack at the edge of the water where he meets 17-year-old Nelly (Michèle Morgan). Nelly comes with her own personal baggage, including a missing boyfriend, a shady godfather named Zabel (Michel Simon), and a local hood named Lucien. Intending to depart the following day on a ship to Venezuela, Jean falls for Nelly despite the obstacles standing in their way.
Port of Shadows is so terrific on nearly every level it's unfathomable to me that someone could not like it. There are people who hold foreign films and/or black & white films in disdain, but even such biased viewers should find something here that appeals to them. Besides being just masterful on a cinematic level, it's actually very entertaining with scenes scattered throughout that range from tense to exciting to comedic to romantic. In one of its many great scenes, Jean confronts Lucien for harassing Nelly and it's one of those scenes that is so masculine it makes you want to cheer.
Jean Gabin has the look of an average guy, but what a talent he was! I haven't seen many of his films, but his performance as Jean is terrific. He's playing a multi-faceted character who is mysterious, tough, romantic, and charming; all qualities which Gabin conveys splendidly. That's not to overlook the great work by Simon or the great character actors that appear throughout the film, nor the elegant performance of the then-18-year-old Morgan; but Gabin is an actor whose work I look forward to seeing more of.
As with Children of Paradise, the dialogue in Port of Shadows is pure poetry and some of the most beautiful dialogue I've heard in film. Carné's most well-known films are grouped into the sub-genre of "poetic realism" and his directing and the brilliant writing by Prévert seems like such a brilliant marriage. Through elegant photography (by Eugen Schüfftan), an ethereal directorial style, and beautiful writing, together Carné and Prévert were able to evoke such poetic beauty through a sublime marriage of images and words. Port of Shadows isn't brought up much in discussions of the greatest films ever made, but from watching it just a single time I believe it may be one of the greatest films I've ever seen with an explosive final scene that is as beautiful and moving as a finale can get. Few films entertain and move me this way and it's one of the few films I wanted to watch again the moment it ended. When I do re-visit this film sometime in the near future, I will re-vise my review accordingly but this is where I stand now. It's an achingly beautiful masterpiece that is nothing short of brilliant.
This brings me to the Criterion release of the film that has recently gone out-of-print. This is one of the more disappointing Criterion releases I've seen due to the varying state of the picture quality. There are times when it looks crisp, pristine, and stunningly beautiful but then there are significant patches of the film that are of VHS quality. I swear one scene had what appeared to be the outline of a film negative beneath the shot. It's certainly not up to par with most Criterion DVD releases. With that said, I am not ungrateful that Criterion released this and I find it to be a great tragedy (and no, I'm not overstating it) that the film has gone out-of-print. I don't own this film and it's lack of availability is tragic for not just myself, but film lovers everywhere. This film deserves a larger audience and those who want to see it will have to save their money and buy an overpriced copy, the same thing that I must do to see it again.
CRITERION DVD: B
FACT THAT CRITERION DVD IS OUT OF PRINT: Sucks
In Port of Shadows, Gabin plays Jean, a military deserter who finds himself slumming in Le Havre seeking out a way to `start over'. He meets the beautiful Nelly, but soon finds himself swallowed up in her world, which is anything but kind. Stuck with a lustful guardian and an arrogant gangster boyfriend, Nelly is bad news for Jean, but he Jean is determined and sadly underprepared for all that he is about to face.
Visually, this French noir is absorbing. The fog lifts in all the right places and settles down at the right times, leaving us entranced by all that is unraveling on screen. Marcel Carne beautifully crafts this masterpiece with intimate details that keep it earnest and realistic, getting the small nuances right and keeping us glued to the eventualities we don't want to see coming. But at the end of the day, it is up to Jean Gabin to sell us on every frame, and he does. He grounds Jean in this mystery, this ambiguity and yet he never comes off as a ghost or an enigma entirely. Instead, he understands the importance of adding a depth behind the eyes that betrays his physical actions. Watching his eyes (Gabin is possibly one of the best examples of `acting with your eyes' in the history of film acting) just takes you by surprise. You can see the wide array and inner emotions and complex shifts without seeing any dramatics. You see him love, lust, morn, regress and pursue all by watching those subtle changes in his stare.
Possibly the single greatest performance of the 30's.
So, when all is said and done, `Port of Shadows' nails everything it strives for. In a year that brought us some of the best films history has provided, `Port of Shadows' stands tall as one of the very, very best.
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