La kermesse héroïque (1935)

From one great 1930s stink-inducing French film to another… although on the face of it you’d never guess, it’s not exactly an obviously offensive film, though as this review indicates it’s still possible to feel kind of uneasy about it, as I must admit I did. It’s ironic, cos Jacques Feyder wanted to make a light film that wouldn’t give him any grief, and, well, he succeeded at the first part. It’s a historical comedy set in 17th century Flanders under Spanish occupation, more specifically around a small town about to hold its carnival when word comes that a Spanish duke will be passing through with his army in tow. The mayor decides that cowardice is the best policy in trying to deal with them, but his wife decides a more pragmatic course would be accommodation. And therein lay the trouble the film faced; Belgium (where Feyder and his screenwriter Charles Spaak both originally hailed from) took it as a slur against them for capitulating to the Germans in 1914, and the film’s own 1935 context shouldn’t be forgotten either; that Hitler fellow was making strides in Germany and the film actually faced accusations of “Nazi” inspiration. (And we know, too, what happened in France in 1940. Apparently Spaak actually wound up working with the Nazi-owned Continental film company, by way of one more irony.) If I didn’t know about all this before watching the film, I’d likely have just appraised it as I indeed do as a film, which is to say that it’s really good-looking (I don’t know the specific Flemish artists Feyder wanted to reference, but I can still appreciate a nice bit of production design. Weird trousers, though), if perhaps too light to sustain its running time and, well, not as funny as other people seem to think. But I couldn’t forget the historical context or what would happen to France just a few years later, and that made the viewing experience more sour than it might otherwise have been.

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