French filmmaker Georges Franju is to be the subject of one the retrospectives programmed for the 60th San Sebastian Festival to take place from 21-29 September 2012.
Georges Franju (12-4-1912 / 5-11-1987) was an enormously influential figure in French film culture. In 1936 he founded the Cinémathèque Française with Henri Langlois. His career as a director began in 1949 with documentaries, a field to which he contributed some of the greatest titles ever in the genre. His early works - Le Sang des bêtes, Hôtel des Invalides and En passant par la Lorraine – already demonstrated his particular talent for filming reality from unexpected angles, a trait leading in these testimonial films to a sensitivity akin to surrealism and expressionism.
Franju’s obsession with putting his finger on the inexpressible poetry of things through his lens stayed with him as he moved on to feature films with La Tête contre les murs (Head Against the Wall,1958), followed by Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face,1959), considered to be a masterpiece of fantasy film. His fascination with popular culture, with the feuilleton soap-operas and silent film serials, is clearly visible in movies like Pleins feux sur l’assassin (1960), Judex (1963) and Nuits rouges (1974), true exercises in style striving to recover the innocence of those old narrations of intrigue and mystery in an obvious vindication of film as visual, narrative pleasure. But Franju was also known for his skilful adaptations of classic literary works on which he unfailingly left his personal stamp: François Mauriac (Thérèse Desqueyroux / Therese, 1962), Émile Zola (La faute de l’Abbé Mouret / The Demise of Father Mouret, 1970), Joseph Conrad (La Ligne d’ombre, 1973) and Jean Cocteau (Thomas l’imposteur / Thomas the Imposter, 1964). Today unjustly forgotten, Franju’s work enjoyed great critical acclaim in its time and earned him the admiration of the young filmmakers of the nouvelle vague.
The cycle programmed by the San Sebastian Festival will permit us to recover Franju’s films, precisely in the year he would have turned 100.
To celebrate this cycle, co-produced with the Filmoteca Española, a book will also be published, coordinated by Quim Casas and Ana Cristina Iriarte.The retrospective enjoys the collaboration of the Instituto Valenciano del Audiovisual y la Cinematografía Ricardo Muñoz Suay, the Filmoteca de Cantabria and the Centro Galego de Artes da Imaxe (CGAI).
FILMS IN THE CYCLE
LE SANG DES BÊTES (1949)
Today Franju’s first work as a director is considered to be an essential title in the history of documentary films. A look at life in a Paris slaughterhouse turns into a cruel, eye-opening experience thanks to what Franju called “my attraction to the unusual and poetic realism”.
EN PASSANT PAR LA LORRAINE (1950)
This Government-commissioned documentary was intended to reflect the modernisation of French industry. However, in Franju’s hands it became an ode to fire and a fascinating portrayal of industrial architecture.
HÔTEL DES INVALIDES (1952)
Franju always said that, of all his documentaries, this was the one he liked best. This French Government commission to demonstrate life in a hospital for war veterans metamorphosed into a brutal critique of militarism denouncing the horrors of war.
LE GRAND MÉLIÈS (1952)
In this documentary, Franju pays tribute to a figure for whom he always had great admiration: the filmmaker and father of fantasy film, Georges Méliès. A look at the figure and work of a unique artist evoked by his wife.
LES POUSSIÈRES (1953)
A scientific documentary about the effects of industrial waste on human beings brought to us by Franju with his personal poetic touch.
NAVIGATION MARCHANDE ATLANTIQUE (1954)
A documentary financed by a shipping line to advertise its modern cruise ships. Despite being a commission leaving Franju less freedom than usual, his influence is obvious in the rather unusual features he uses to present the vessel.
À PROPOS D’UNE RIVIÈRE (1955)
A lyrical evocation of times past and a reflection on the inevitable passing of time through the recollections of an old fisherman.
MON CHIEN (1955)
Once again in this documentary Franju depicts a distressing scenario, another of those corners of society hidden from everyday eyes: the tale of an abandoned dog finally taken to the pound, where a sad fate awaits it.
MONSIEUR ET MADAME CURIE (1956)
A tribute to the scientists who led the way in radioactivity studies. Franju uses documentary reconstruction with actors to demonstrate the methods of the Curie husband and wife team and the precarious conditions in which they went about their far-reaching research.
LE THÉÂTRE NATIONAL POPULAIRE (1956)
Documentary on the Popular National Theatre, an important experimental centre formerly directed by Jean Vilar. Franju combines films of plays with documentary images, creating connections and confrontations between theatre and the real world.
SUR LE PONT D’AVIGNON (1956)
A documentary on the city of Avignon improvised by Franju in ten days, the interval he had to wait while shooting Le Théâtre National Populaire.
NOTRE-DAME, CATHÉDRALE DE PARIS (1957)
The Ministry of Fine Arts commissioned Franju to make a film on the famous Parisian cathedral. In view of the filmmaker’s well-known background, he was instructed: “Only to film the cathedral. No priests, no masses. Only the architecture”. The film, shot in Cinemascope, turned out to be a delightful ode to the beauty of the building.
LA PREMIÈRE NUIT (1958)
Franju makes his first inroads to fictional cinema with this short film, an updated take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice represented in the story of a child lost in a modern underground hell: the Paris Metro.
LES RIDEAUX BLANCS (1965)
With a script by Marguerite Duras and music by Georges Delerue, this short focusses on the relationship between an old lady with amnesia and an illiterate child used once again by Franju to explore subjects like time and the memory.
RENCONTRE AVEC FANTÔMAS(1966)
A portrait of feuilleton author, Marcel Allain, creator of one of Franju’s favourite heroes: Fantômas.
LA TÊTE CONTRE LES MURS (Head Against the Wall) (1958)
Franju’s feature film debut, following his experience as a documentary-maker, is an acerbic movie taking a similarly critical look at institutions. Based on a novel by Hervé Bazin, the film constitutes a disturbing reflection on madness and how it is treated viewed through the experience of a young boy forcefully committed to a psychiatric hospital.
LES YEUX SANS VISAGE (Eyes Without a Face) (1959)
Crime novel writers Boileau and Narcejac adapted a macabre tale by Jean Redon for Franju. The plot describes the experiments of a brilliant surgeon who kills women to remove the skin from their faces and graft it onto his daughter, badly disfigured in an accident. Possibly the most popular film in Franju’s filmography and undoubtedly one of his masterpieces; a cult title in the history of fantasy movies where horror and poetry walk hand-in-hand.
PLEINS FEUX SUR L’ASSASSIN (1960)
The second collaboration between Franju and novelists Boileau and Narcejac resulted in a delicious homage to classic crime fiction, plain old entertainment with all of the typical genre ingredients: a big house in the country, a hidden fortune, greedy heirs, a missing dead body and the odd crime. All wrapped in a sound and light show where nothing is what it seems to be.
THÉRÈSE DESQUEYROUX (Therese) (1962)
Franju took to the screen the excellent book of the same name by François Mauriac, adapted to film by the author’s son, Claude. Set in a small provincial town, the movie revolves around Thérèse, a young girl married to a man she doesn’t love who is driven by her stifling life in a boring, repressive environment to take desperate measures. The film earned its starring lady, Emmanuelle Riva, the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Festival.
Franju wanted to pay tribute to the work of the master of silent film, Louis Feuillade, with this remake of one of the popular serials that made him famous. Feuillade’s grandson, Jacques Champreux, wrote the script for a film recovering the innocence and beauty of the feuilleton, a world packed with villains, crimes and abductions, beautiful women, disguises, tricks and all sorts of marvellous situations.
THOMAS L’IMPOSTEUR (THOMAS THE IMPOSTER) (1964)
Adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s novel on which Franju once again worked with Emmanuelle Riva as the leading lady. Set in the First World War, the film focusses on the friendship between an aristocratic woman who organises a convoy to evacuate wounded from the front and a 16 year-old boy who claims to be a famous general’s son. The cast also featured Cocteau’s fetish actor, Jean Marais, and the singer Charles Aznavour.
LA FAUTE DE L’ABBÉ MOURET (The Demise of Father Mouret) (1970)
Franju once again adapts a classic of French literature, this time by Émile Zola. Here the moviemaker takes an anti-clerical novel to the screen, removing absolutely nothing of the fury and aggressiveness from its message. A suffocating, claustrophobic tale about a priest in a country town who loses his memory in a fall. As he is nursed back to health by a beautiful young girl, the priest falls in love with her... not remembering who he is or his religious duties.
LA LIGNE D’OMBRE (1973)
A TV film by Franju based on Joseph Conrad’s homonymous novel, a masterpiece of seafaring literature. Defined by Franju himself as “a film of inaction”, this initiation tale (partly based on Conrad’s own experience) describes the adventures of a young captain on his first sea voyage on a ship afflicted with malaria and, as he says, enchanted by the spirit of the former captain.
NUITS ROUGES (1974)
Franju and the screenwriter Jacques Champreux created a mini TV series in old serial format, entitled L’Homme sans visage, while shooting this complementary film conceived for cinemas. A return to the universe of silent film master Louis Feuillade, described thus by Franju: “A film entered like the traditional fiestas to which you’d better take your innocence if you don’t want to be disappointed”.
A regular chapter in the Festival retrospective section has been a cycle dedicated to a classic director, enabling us to appreciate the little or virtually unknown work of such filmmakers as Robert Siodmak, James Whale, William Dieterle, William A. Wellman, Gregory La Cava, Tod Browning, Mitchell Leisen, Mikio Naruse, John M. Stahl, Carol Reed, Frank Borzage, Michael Powell, Preston Sturges, Anthony Mann, Robert Wise, Ernst Lubitsch, Henry King, Mario Monicelli, Richard Brooks, Don Siegel and Jacques Demy.