#GFF16 Retrospective: LA BELLE EQUIPE (1936)

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Director: Julien Duvivier Starring: Jean Gabin, Charles Vanel, Raymond Aimos, Viviane Romance

Roughly translated as The Beautiful Team (or THEY WERE FIVE as it is also known), this film tells the story of 5 friends, a lottery win and the collateral damage of greed, lust and love. We follow these men, united first by poverty and then by an unexpected lottery win, abandon their lowly home in Paris to renovate a house on the banks of the Marne, transforming it into a guinguette (a sort of B&B-come-cafe). They seek to find a utopian community in their new life, which sadly cannot be met as one by one the group is picked apart. With the political mood of France at the time looming in the air, the sense of disillusionment was present. These men are strongest and happiest together, as a team however this utopia is too fragile to resist tragedy.

In 2015 Pathe restored this french folly to it’s original glory. In 1936 when the film was first shown in France it was a commercial failure. The Great Depression was in full swing, war was looming and the political state of France was completely turned on it’s head when the La Front Populaire was elected into power. Cinema-goers didn’t want to see a film where the bonds of friendship are broken apart and people die. Duvivier was ordered by his producer to shoot a new, happy ending after a disastrous screening. For 30 years this shiny and optimistic version was all audience were able to see. n 1966, the writers reacquired the rights, but could no longer find the original. Just before his death in 1967, Duvivier, found a Swiss copy subtitled in German thanks to the Cinémathèque française, whose last reel was replaced with that of the producer. After the discovery of a nitrate dupe by historian Lenny Borger preserved by Cineteca Nazionale in Rome, the version originally intended can now be shown to very willing audiences like those at the Glasgow Film Festival.

With the political mood of France at the time looming in the air, a sense of disillusionment was present. These men are strongest and happiest together, as a team however this utopia is too fragile to resist tragedy. What I took away from this very poignant film was most certainly that together, we are stronger. No one man proves himself to be the hero except friendship itself. The film determinedly demonstrates the importance of this; that all this hard work to open the perfect guinguette is not worth it unless you are with the people you love. We must not lose sight of this and succumb to our own selfishness. One particularly tender line uttered by Jeannot (Jean Gabin) “The five of us, it was like the smell of fresh bread.” Which I think says it all really

The Final Word: This beautiful team teach us some important lessons about friendship

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