Nationality: French. Born: Bayeux, Normandy, 3 October 1901. Education: l'Ecole Communale de Saint-Lô, Lycée de Brest, and Ecole des Cordeliers, Dinan; Schola Cantorum, Paris (studied with Vincent d'Indy), 1920. Military Service: 1920–22. Family: Married Christiane (Grémillon). Career: Film titler, editor, and director of short films, from 1923; worked in Spain and Germany, 1935–38; war cinematographer, from 1939; elected president of Cinémathèque Française, 1944; president of C.G.T., film technicians union, 1946–50. Died: 25 November 1959.
Films as Director:
Chartres (Le Cathédrale de Chartres) (+ ed); Le Revêtement des routes (+ ed)
La Fabrication du fil (+ ed); Du fil à l'aiguille (+ ed); La Fabrication du ciment artificiel (+ ed); La Bière (+ ed); Le Roulement à billes (+ ed); Les Parfums (+ ed); L'Étirage des ampoules électriques (+ ed); La Photogénie mécanique (+ ed)
L'Education professionelle des conducteurs de tramway (six short films) (+ ed); L'Electrification de la ligne Paris-Vierzon (+ ed); L'Auvergne (+ ed); La Naissance des cigognes (+ ed); Les Aciéries de la marine et d'Homécourt (+ ed)
La Vie des travailleurs italiens en France (+ ed); La Croisière de L'Atalante (+ ed); Un Tour au large (+ ed, sc, music—recorded on piano rolls)
Maldone (+ ed, co-music); Gratuités (+ ed)
Bobs (+ ed)
Gardiens de phare (+ ed)
La Petite Lise (+ ed)
Dainah la métisse (+ ed) (disowned due to unauthorized reediting); Pour un sou d'amour (no d credit on film; + ed)
Le Petit Babouin (+ ed, music)
Gonzague ou L'Accordeur (+ sc)
La Valse royale (French version of Herbert Maisch's Königswalzer)
Centinella alerta! (not completed by Grémillon); Pattes de mouches (+ co-sc)
L'Etrange Monsieur Victor
Le Ciel est à vous
Le Six Juin à l'aube (Sixth of June at Dawn) (+ sc, music)
Pattes blanches (+ co-dialogue); Les Charmes de l'existence (co-d, co-sc, co-commentary, music advisor)
L'Etrange Madame X
Astrologie ou Le Miroir de la vie (+ sc, co-music); "Alchimie" episode of L'Encyclopédie filmée—Alchimie, Azur, Absence (+ sc)
L'Amour d'une femme (+ sc, dubbed actor Paolo Stoppa); Au cœur de l'Ile de France (+ sc, co-music)
La Maison aux images (+ sc, music)
Haute Lisse (+ sc, music adapt)
André Masson et les quatre éléments (+ sc, music)
Désastres de la guerre (Kast) (commentary and co-music)
By GRÉMILLON: books—
Hommage à Jacques Feyder, Paris, 1948.
Le Printemps de la Liberté, Paris, 1948.
By GRÉMILLON: articles—
"Propositions," in Comoedia (Paris), 27 November 1925.
"Le Cinema? Plus qu'un art . . . ," in L'Ecran Français (Paris), August 1947.
"Jacques Feyder, ce combattant," in L'Ecran Français (Paris), 8 June 1948.
"Conférences sur Flaherty," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 9–10, 1956.
"Ma rencontre avec André Masson," in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 24 November 1960.
On GRÉMILLON: books—
Jean Grémillon, Première Plan, no. 5, Paris, 1960.
Agel, Henri, "Jean Grémillon," in Cinéma d'aujourd'hui, no. 58, Paris, 1969.
Sellier, Geneviève, Jean Grémillon: Le Cinéma est à vous, Paris, 1989.
On GRÉMILLON: articles—
Hackett, Hazel, "Jean Grémillon," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1947.
Kast, Pierre, "Exercice d'un tragique quotidien . . . ," in Revue duCinéma (Paris), August 1948.
"Grémillon Issue" of Ciné-Club (Paris), January/February 1951.
Laurent, F., "Sur Jean Grémillon," in Image et Son (Paris), February 1955.
"Gremillon Issue" of Lettres Françaises (Paris), 3 December 1959.
Chevassu, François, "Dossier Jean Grémillon," in Image et Son (Paris), January 1960.
Mayoux, Michel, "Jean Grémillon, cinéaste de la réalité," in Cahiersdu Cinéma (Paris), February 1960.
"Grémillon Issue" of Cinéma (Paris), March 1960.
Clair, René, "Jean Grémillon devant l'avenir," in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 24 November 1960.
Vivet, J.-P., "Hommage à Jean Grémillon," in Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), 15 September 1962.
Billard, Pierre, "Jean Grémillon," in Anthologie du Cinéma, vol. 2, Paris, 1967.
Siclier, Jacques, "Portrait: Jean Grémillon," in Radio-Télé-Cinéma (Paris), 24 November 1969.
"Jean Grémillon," in Dossier du Cinéma (Paris), 1971.
Le Dantec, and M. Latil, "Jean Grémillon: le réalisme et le tragique," in Cinématographe (Paris), no. 40, 1978.
Le Dantec, and M. Latil, "Le Cinéma de Jean Grémillon," in Cinématographe (Paris), no. 41, 1978.
Biofilmography, in Film Dope (London), October 1980.
"Jean Grémillon Section" of Cinéma (Paris), November 1981.
"Le Ciel est à vous Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 November 1981.
"Grémillon Issue" of Filmkritik (Munich), April 1983.
Detassis, P., "Jean Grémillon, 'l'uomotramite' tra due epoche del cinema francese," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), October/December 1983.
Kast, Pierre, in Cinéma (Paris), December 1984.
Ory, P., "Présence paradoxale de la petite bourgeoisie dan l'ouevre de Jean Grémillon," in in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Paris), no. 50, 1988.
Ory, P., "Grémillon, le Grand," in Positif (Paris), no. 359, January 1991.
Bruyn, O. De, "Jean Grémillon ou l'art de la discrétion," in Positif (Paris), no. 384, February 1993.
Denny, J.S., "La collectoin Jean Grémillon de la Bibliothèque nationale," in Cinémathèque (Paris), no. 4, Autumn 1993.
* * *
Jean Grémillon is finally beginning to receive the international reputation most French film scholars always bestowed upon him. Although Americans have until recently been able to see only one or two of his dozen important works, he has generally been placed only slightly below Renoir, Clair, and Carné in the hierarchy of French classical cinema.
Evidently, no one was more versatile than Grémillon. A musician, he composed many of his own scores and supervised all aspects of his productions scrupulously. Along with the search for a romantic unity of feeling and consistency of rhythm, his films also display an attention to details and locations that derives from his earliest documentaries.
No one was more prepared than Grémillon for the poetic realist sensibility that dominated French cinema in the 1930s. Even in the silent period his Maldone and Gardiens de phare reveal a heightening of strange objects as they take on fatal proportions in these tense and dark melodramas. La Petite Lise displayed these same qualities, along with an incredibly imaginative and rigorous use of sound. It should be called the first poetic realist film, anticipating Carné's work in particular.
After a few years of obscurity, Grémillon re-emerged with Gueule d'amour, a Foreign Legion love story with Jean Gabin. Then came a series of truly wonderful films: L'Étrange M. Victor, Remorques, Le Ciel est à vous, and Lumière d'été. Spanning the period of French subjugation by the Nazis, these films capture the sensibility of the times with their wistful romanticism, the fatality of their conclusions, and their attention to social classes.
Le Ciel est à vous must be singled out as a key film of the Occupation. Enormously popular, this tale of a small-town couple obsessed with aviation has been variously interpreted as a work promoting Vichy morality (family, small-town virtues, hard work) and as a representation of the indomitable French spirit, ready to soar beyond the temporary political restraints of the Occupation. Charles Vanel and Madeleine Renaud give unforgettable performances.
Grémillon often sought mythic locations (mysterious villages in the Alps or Normandy, the evocative southern cities of Orange and Toulon) where his quiet heroes and heroines played out their destinies of passion and crime. Unique is the prominent place women hold in his dramas. From the wealthy femme fatale murdered by Gabin in Gueule d'amour to the independent professional woman who refuses to give up her medical career, even for love (L'Amour d'une femme), women are shown to be far more prepossessed than the passionate but childish men who pursue them.
It is perhaps the greatest tragedy of French cinema that Grémillon's career after World War II was derailed by the conditions of the industry. His Sixth of June at Dawn shows how even a documentary project could in his hands take on poetic proportions and become a personal project. Yet the final years before his death in 1959 (when he was only fifty-seven) were spent in teaching and preparing unfinanced scripts. This is a sad end for the man some people claim to have been the most versatile cinematic genius ever to work in France.