This review was originally published on Pol Culture.
The 1939 film Le Jour se lève, directed by Marcel Carné, is a strikingly realized romantic melodrama. The scenario, by Jacques Viot, presents a tragic quadrangle in flashback. In the opening scene, a young foundry worker (Jean Gabin) shoots and kills a middle-aged entertainer (Jules Berry) in his apartment. He then barricades himself in the room to forestall capture by the police, all the while thinking back on the events that led up to the murder. He was in love with a young flower delivery girl (Jacqueline Laurent), who had come under the entertainer’s sway. Complicating matters was his fling with the entertainer’s former assistant (Arletty). The men's involvement with the two women boils over in a heady conflict of love and egotism for all four. The plotting is thin, but the story couldn’t have been more richly presented. Carné, with able support from production designer Alexander Trauner, cinematographer Philippe Agostini, and composer Maurice Jaubert, creates an atmospheric and exactingly detailed setting. Combined with the poetic use of props, Jacques Prévert’s sharply written dialogue, and the fine, understated performances of Gabin and the others, it adds up to an extraordinarily vivid and memorable film. Historically, the film is considered one of the preeminent examples of the downbeat “poetic realism” movement in 1930s French filmmaking. It’s not a picture to come to with enormously high expectations; it doesn’t have that level of immediacy or bravura. But if one just goes with the lusciously moody ambience, one will find oneself drinking it in before too long.