French Poetic Realism

French Poetic Realism

The Use of symbolism

French Poetic Realism is a literary and art term used for the movement in the 19th century that worked through the prism of symbolism. It was a reaction to classical idealism, instead it set to portray life as it really was. It focused on ordinary life; politics, sexuality, morality and class issues without glamourising them. Poetic realism is like a heightened realism. Not only are the characters symbolic but the objects and lighting are symbolic too. Low key lighting is used, things are suggested or hinted at. Lots of cats are used in these films to symbolise a selfish woman or sexuality e.g La Bete Humaine. There was use of side-lighting partial lighting or highlighting symbolic objects. Poetic realism can also be said to be creating something out of nothing thereby being an inverted realism.

At the beginning we have a painted stage set with lighthearted dance scenes. It switches to a library scene. Then we see a man playing a flute on the balcony. It then cuts to a man stroking a woman, in a blatantly sexual way. When the woman leaves, the man says “My pipes are weary and some shepherd will lure her with his youthful flute”. That is an obvious and comedic symbolism.

When we meet Boudu , he is petting his dog lovingly. The dog is a poodle, it looks something similar to Boudu’s hair and beard When he loses his dog the guard has no interest in helping him look for his dog. Yet when an upper class woman loses her dog that is worth 10,000 francs, he calls another guard to help to go look. This is followed with a young girl trying to give Boudu 5 francs, he takes it, but then he gives it away to a rich man he dosn’t care for it. We then see how the bookshop owner pays a young man to leave the shop so as he wont see the young maid who he is having an affair with. Money and class are symbolic in the film of how important it is to some people and society, yet unlike the innocent and childlike Boudu to whom it is meaningless. When Boudu is saved a man in the crowd says “How wonderful a man of our class showing true civic courage”. The statement portrays a weak and selfish upper class. There are other symbols to suggest the wealth of the bookshop owner, the piano, the telescope, the watch, newspapers, the maid and lots of utensils in the kitchen. When Boudu attempts to flirt with the bookkeeper’s wife, we have a shot a painting on the wall of two woodland creatures, is it symbolic of the frivolous characters or the oppression and that they would like to be free? The cuts between different rooms and agitated cats outside are symbolic of the restless sexual energy.

The character Boudu in French poetic Realism.

When we first meet Boudu, we see him happily playing with his dog. He seems boyish and unconcerned about others in his reverie. As we learn more of him, we see that in fact he is child-like but comedic and aware of his place and how others see him. He is not concerned with money or wordly pleasures. He spits out wine as a child would. He grabs at the cigars. He eats like a child. He prefers to sleep on the floor with no blankets. After the book-shop owner borrowed him the jacket, he flings the money and the lottery ticket inside it back to the man. He would lie on the table as a child would. If he won 100,000 francs he “would buy a bike”. He keeps the broken watch the man gave him. Boudu was aware the watch was broken, yet he kept it. He knew his place and yet accepted it in his youthful way. He mocks the shop owner and his wife, as a child would with repetition and facial expression. When the wife rolls her eyes at Boudu,  he asks “is that a tic”?, then when she answers him he rolls his eyes at her. He begins chasing the mans wife and mistress around the house like it is just a game. All in a kind of slapstick, knock-about farce way. The woodland creatures in the painting are allusive to the Peter pan character of Boudu. The stage scene at the beginning of the play, seems to present a hidden meaning as to the superficial and pantomime- like relationships of the film. At the end of the film, Boudu fakes his own death. After marrying the young maid, he falls into the river. All of his experiences living life in the upper echelons didn’t change him, he rejects them in favour of retuning to his simple life. In the final scene we see him him sitting in nature,  singing and just happy to be experiencing life itself. A shot to the sky is suggestive of the bigger aspect to life, there is more to Boudu than meets the eye and his childlike nature has a deeper connection to something far greater than the material world has offered.

Marcel Carne

Marcel Carne harmonised and unified all aspects of film. He used great lighting, great actors and set design. He was a passionate and energtic man. He liked to drink and joke. He spoke and moved quickly. He would scream but wasn’t mean. He somehow inspired a method acting in his actors through his passion. By arguing with his actors before a scene they would bring that real life tension to the screen. He described his actors as ‘unreliable bit’s of  furniture, that would move when you lit them’. He was inspired by fairgrounds in his young life and transpired to his career in Hollywood. The Caravans in the background at the fairs intrigued him with their shadows and lighting.

In his film Le Quai des Brumes, we see his powerful visual ambition through his use of camera (the camera moves in and out) and his lighting techniques suggesting something hidden, something living in the shadows.

La Regle de Jeu

La Regle du Jeu is about the affairs of the aristocracy and the lower servants. There is a dark play put on by the servants of the house, showing a skeleton dancing about the people of the house, this is symbolic of the death that will occur later. How the animals killed quite graphically is metaphor for how the aristocracy are living their lives.

Although the film is long and drawn out, it is busy and energetic and humorous in parts. Renoir’s characters are very human, we see their weaknesses and he shows them sympathetically. It also is a film about love, emotion, impossible love and love lost. “Love is the barter of two whims and the contact of two skins” is a great line in the film, symbolic and humerous. The characters are unable to make choices about who they love or where there political ideals lie echoing the political atmosphere of the time. The sets both inside and out are beautiful and artistic. The costumes are elegant and paint the scenes. The film changes tone and pace quickly. The lighting is daring and dramatic with track lighting and spotlights flitting back and forth, it was ahead of it’s time.


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