Director: Louis Delluc
Production: Société Alhambra-Film; black and white. Released 1921. Screenplay: Louis Delluc; photography: A. Gibory and Lucas; decor: Becan.
Cast: Eve Francis (Sarah); Edmond Van Daele (Militis); Elena Sagrary (Orientale); Gaston Modot (Topinelli); Foottit (Man in the Grey Hat); L. V. de Malte (The Drunk); Yvonne Aurel (The Woman with the Pipe); A. F. Brunelle (The Little Clerk); Solange Rugiens (Patience); Barral (Card-Player); Gastao Roxo (Colis); Lili Samuel (The Dwarf); Marcel Delville (Pompon); Noemi Scize (La Rafigue); Waroquet (Grimail); Leon Moussinac (Cesar); Bayle (Piquignon); Line Chaumont (Peche verte); Siska (Prunelle); Jeanne Cadix (Flora); Vintiane (Javette); Bole (Tonneau); W. Bouchgard (Alvar).
Delluc, Louis, Fièvre, in Drames de cinema, Paris, 1923.
Delluc, Louis, La Jungle du cinéma, Paris, 1921.
Amiguet, Philippe, Cinéma! Cinéma!, Lausanne, 1923.
Gance, Abel, Prisme, Paris, 1930.
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Image et Son (Paris), July 1957.
Francis, Eve, and others, in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 19 March 1964.
McCreary, E. C., "Louis Delluc, Film Theorist, Critic, and Prophet," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1976.
Régent, R., "Le Delluc: Un Prix de copains," in Avant-Scene duCinéma (Paris), 15 April 1981.
Abel, Richard, "On the Threshold of French Film Theory and Criticism, 1915–1919," in Cinema Journal (Austin), vol. 25, no. 1, Fall 1985.
Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), Autumn 1987.
Darrigol, J., "Un homme lumiere, Louis Delluc," in Mensuel duCinéma, no. 14, January 1994.
* * *
It was Thoreau who said that the masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation. It is in the spirit of this pessimistic observation that Delluc assembles his motley collection of the world's misfits in a sleazy Marseilles bar. The original title of the film was La boue (The Mire) which didn't please, for some peculiar reason, the French film censor. Indeed, the film itself was subjected to his scissors. Such a film was at the time an innovation and was to inspire a whole new genre in French cinema, typical of which were the films of Marcel Carné.
The action, apart from some shots of the harbour and bar exteriors, takes place within the barroom, giving it a unity and intensity. Its drama occurs within a short space of time. It draws heavily on its atmosphere, and the dramatic structure is spare and economic. The interaction of the characters is subtle and significant. Topinelli, the bar owner, is jealous of his wife Sarah, who is in love with the sailor Militis. There is also the sad introspective little oriental girl who seems to represent the ideal of beauty.
As the film opens we are informed that Sarah's lover, the sailor, has deserted her and she is now married to the brute Topinelli. There is an expectancy among the women. A ship has come into port from the Orient. The sailors arrive at the bar, including Militis, the former lover of Sarah. Exotic presents are displayed. Card playing and dancing are going on. There are rough play and scuffles. Sarah dances with Militis, who has brought with him a little oriental girl whom he bought in the Far East. Drunken tensions mount. Sarah and Militis awaken their former love for each other. A fight takes place between Militis and a customer who is attacking the little girl. In the melee Militis is killed by Topinelli who departs with the sailors leaving Sarah beside the dead body of her lover. The police arrive and arrest her. A tulip in a vase attracts the little girl. The film ends with the girl seated on the ground, the flower between her fingers, smiling with a sad frozen smile.
In the hands of Delluc Fièvre is more than a mere slice of life. He moulds his scene and characters to fit into a sustained mood throughout. He evokes their psychological reactions to events and by suitable lighting expresses their personalities.
As Sarah, Delluc's wife Eve Francis gives a beautiful performance, as she always does in the films of her husband and those of Marcel l'Herbier. There is an air of fatality about her which holds the centre of the action. The ubiquitous Gaston Modot as Topinelli is appropriately unsympathetic and brutal. Modot has been almost a trademark of French films from Gance to Buñuel. All the other characters are equally impressive.
It is not a very long film but within its frame Delluc has evoked an intense experience of life illuminated by his poetic vision.