The Story of a Cheat (1936)

Next up: the Eclipse Presenting Sacha Guitry box. Guitry is someone I’ve barely even known by name hitherto, in that I knew he’d existed, knew the titles of a handful of his films, and that was about the extent of it. So I was up for a bit of education… what I’ve discovered is that Guitry was much more of a theatre man who made some comment about cinema just being “conserved theatre” and then, ironically, got into filmmaking in the mid-30s pretty much to conserve his own plays. However, this particular title actually comes from what was apparently his only novel, and, if you’ll pardon the expression, it takes a somewhat novel approach to telling the story therein (actually, if someone else made that joke I wouldn’t pardon them either). Notwithstanding one earlyish experiment made around 1914, Guitry seems not to have been tempted by silent cinema because he couldn’t use his voice, and his voice is the defining feature of Story of a Cheat; we see him in a cafe writing his story in a notebook, and we see all of this then acted out in flashback, but Guitry’s voice is the only one we hear as he narrates the entire thing, right down to the other characters’ dialogue. The only time anyone else in the film speaks is in a couple of scenes in the cafe, i.e. outside the flashback. It’s certainly an interesting approach to the whole matter of first person narration in cinema, although the literalness of it might be off-putting to some, but it obviously lets Guitry have fun as he recounts his journey from thieving orphan (there is something inexplicably hilarious about the mass funeral with which the film starts) to successful casino cheat and beyond, before crucially ducking back out of the flashback to deliver a couple of lovely final ironies. I enjoyed this a fair bit, looking forward to the rest of the box over the next few days.

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