This 60th anniversary, Blu-ray restoration of Casque d’Or has breathed new life into what was already a classic piece of French cinema.
60th anniversary, Blu-ray restoration of Casque d’Or has breathed new life into what was already a classic
piece of French cinema. Jacques Becker’s tale of
unrequited love and no-good-gangsters reads as testament to standards and
friendship as well as being a masterclass in a very traditional manner of
Casque d’Or opens with a beautiful and
lengthy scene in an open-air ballroom, where all the characters are slowly but
surely introduced to us. Firstly we meet Marie Casque d’Or, the most beautiful
women in the land, who just happens to be on the arm of a local crook. This
ruffian, Roland, and the other local gang members stroll into the dancehall
looking like they own the place, much to the disdain of the older clientele.
Then Georges Manda enters. He is not a member of the gang but one of the groups
more prominent members recognises him from a stint in jail. Now completely reformed
and working as a carpenter Georges is softly spoken and unsuspecting. Yet there
is a mystery to him, a mystery that enchants Marie. Noticing that there is a
spark between the two, Roland starts a scuffle between himself and Georges and
this sets up the rest of the film.
Georges is a man way out of his depth.
He doesn’t want any trouble from the gang but when he has the mob’s best
looking girl chasing him around town who could resist? He makes a lot of
mistakes during Casque d’Or but a lot of these are forced upon him by others.
On the surface Casque d’Or is a film about love and crime but delve a bit deeper
and you’ll discover that it is a film about bullying and remaining true to
yourself. Jacques Becker does this in a very direct manner.
There is a great sense of realism to
Casque d’Or. All the characters are believable as is there environment. Borrowing
techniques from the Italian Neo-Realists, Becker places his characters
in desperate surroundings but gives them a great sense of dignity. Some of the
gang members for instance, although corrupt, on occasion showcase moments of
clarity and respect for each other that can ring true for many other
characters. Also, some of the fight scenes that occur have a very realistic
feel to them and aren’t amped up like the usual Hollywood flair that we see
now. These altercations perfectly represent the struggles that these people
find themselves in. They want to do good and make better of their lives but
there is a greater force holding them back.
The first half of Casque d’Or is just
wonderful. It has a slow and quiet pace to it that allows you to bond with
these characters and understand their personality and motives. Although a
French film it reminds you of the British films of David Lean, Carol
Reed and the Ealing Studio movies of the 1940’s. It has that
rare quality that achieves a lot by doing very little. Unfortunately the film
loses these essences in the second half as the film attempts to build to a
thrilling conclusion. There are still nice scenes between Georges and Marie
that are reminiscent of FW Murnau’s Sunrise but the film endeavours to
recreate the charm of its earlier accomplishments.
That being said Casque d’Or is still
very watchable and enjoyable. In the wake of recent successful reissues like The
Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and the film of Jacques Tati, an
appreciation of 40’s and 50’s filmmaking is on the rise again. Therefore
Casque d’Or’s re-release has come at a perfect time. Lets hope it can find a
whole new audience that will cherish this undervalued gem.