Julien Duvivier (1896–1967) was a key figure in 20th-century French cinema. He was an auteur who did not want to be one because for him, filmmaking was a craft – demanding but learnable. His sense of precision was praised by colleagues and contemporaries, as was his ability to elicit outstanding performances equally from established stars such as Danielle Darrieux and Jean Gabin, as from actors at the start of their careers, such as Brigitte Auber and Jean-Pierre Léaud. It was during the 1930s that Duvivier made some of his most successful and beautiful films – including LA BELLE ÉQUIPE (They Were Five, 1936), PÉPÉ LE MOKO (1937), and LA FIN DU JOUR (The End of the Day, 1939) - and it was undisputed both among experts and in the general cultural discourse of the time that he deserved a place in the Pantheon of French cinema. However, what earned Duvivier lasting respect and esteem in the world of cinema, had the subsequent effect that further on in his career, audiences could no longer classify him. Later generations of filmmakers tended even to regard him as a representative of the more scorned conventional cinema tradition. Yet, his oeuvre is almost like a kind of background music to the great cultural and historical upheavals of his time: Versatile in the choice of subjects and unpredictable in cinematic and stylistic approaches, and impressively differentiated in its representation of his positions. Inspired by Poetic realism, Duvivier developed a view of the world that became increasingly more complex from film to film, a world that was constantly threatened by abrupt eruptions of violence, but in which there was always the glow of a humanist spark of hope. The recesses of human nature appealed to the director more than its charms. An individual human being may have a good core, but as part of the masses, s/he was almost always malevolent. Duvivier often used Christian symbolism but for him, even faith did not offer salvation; this was made more possible by solidarity and friendship, which, however, could also unexpectedly prove to be an illusion. The characters in his films are confronted with the imponderables of fate without falling prey to a depressing bitterness.
Arsenal is dedicating an extensive retrospective, curated by Ralph Eue and Frederik Lang, comprising 19 films out of an overall oeuvre of almost 70 films, to the “master of poetic pessimism” – it is the first in Germany. SYNEMA (Vienna) will publish an accompanying text. (Ralph Eue, Frederik Lang)
The retrospective is made possible by a grant from the Capital Cultural Fund (HKF).