La Kermesse Héroïque
LA KERMESSE HÉROÏQUE
(Carnival in Flanders)
Director: Jacques Feyder
Production: Film Sonores Tobis, distributed through Films Sonor; black and white, 35mm; running time: 115 minutes. French version released 3 December 1935, Paris; German version released 16 January 1936, Berlin. Filmed June-July and September 1935 in Tobis d'Epinay-sur-Seine studios (France).
Screenplay: Charles Spaak, adapted by Charles Spaak and Jacques Feyder, dialogue by Bernard Zimmer (French) and A. Rabenalt (German), from a story by Charles Spaak; photography: Harry Stradling, Louis Page, and André Thomas; editor: Jacques Brillouin; sound: Hermann Storr; art directors: Lazare Meerson, Alexandre Trauner, and Georges Wakhévitch; music: Louis Beydte; costume designers: Georges K. Benda and J. Muelle; artistic consultant: Charles Barrois; history consultant: M. Sterling of the Louvre; technical assistant: Marcel Carné.
Cast: French version: Louis Jouvet (Chaplain); Françoise Rosay (Cornelia, the Burgomaster's wife); Jean Murat (Duke of Olivares); André Alerme (Burgomaster); Lyne Clévers (Fishmonger's wife); Micheline Cheirel (Siska); Maryse Wendling (Baker's wife); Ginette Gaubert (Innkeeper's wife); Marguerite Ducouret (Brewer's wife); Bernard Lancret (Jean Breuchel); Alfred Adam (Butcher); Pierre Labry (Innkeeper); Arthur Devère (Fishmonger); Marcel Carpentier (Baker); Alexandre Darcy (Captain); Claude Sainval (Lieutenant); Delphin (Midget); German version: Wilhelm Holsboer (Chaplin); Françoise Rosay (Burgomaster's wife); Paul Hartmann (Duke); Will Dohm (Burgomaster); Charlott Daubert (Siska); Albert Lieven (Jean Breughel); Paul Westermeier (Butcher); Carsta Loegk (Fishmonger's wife); Trude Marlen (Innkeeper); Erika Helmke (Baker's wife); Hans Henininger (Fishmonger); Wilhelm Gombert (Innkeeper); Heintz Forster Ludwig (Baker); Werner Scharf (1st Spanish Lieutenant); Paul Wolka Walker (Midget).
Awards: Venice Film Festival, Best Direction, 1936; Le Grand Prix du Cinéma Français, 1936.
Spaak, Charles, and others, La Kermesse héroïque, in Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), May 1963.
Buzzi, Aldo, La kermesse eroica, Milan, 1945.
Feyder, Jacques, and Françoise Rosay, Le Cinéma, notre métier, Geneva, 1946.
Jacques Feyder, ou, le Cinéma concret, Brussels, 1949.
Bachy, Victor, "Jacques Feyder," in Anthologie du Cinéma 18, Paris, 1966.
Bachy, Victor, Jacques Feyder, artisan du cinéma, Louvain, 1968.
Régent, Roger, "Louis Jouvet," in Anthologie du cinéma 5, Paris, 1969.
Sadoul, Georges, French Film, New York, 1972.
Ford, Charles, Jacques Feyder, Paris, 1973.
Barsacq, Léon, Caligari's Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions: A History of Film Design, New York, 1976.
Ellis, Jack, C., A History of Film, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1979.
Feyder; Zavattini; Trésors de cinémathèque, Perpignan, 1984.
New York Times, 23 September 1936.
Variety (New York), 30 September 1936.
Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1936.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1936.
Motion Picture Herald (New York), 3 October 1936.
Today's Cinema, 15 October 1936.
Greene, Graham, in Spectator (London), 30 October 1936.
"Hommage a Jacques Feyder," in Ecran Français (Paris), 8 June 1948.
"Feyder Issue" of Ciné-Club (Paris), 2 November 1948.
Auriol, J.-G., and Mario Verdone, "L'Art du costume dans le film," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), Autumn 1949.
Today's Cinema, 31 December 1952.
Sadoul, Georges, "Jouvet et le cinema," in Lettres Françaises (Paris), 25 August 1961.
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Dossier on Jacques Feyder, in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), no. 40, Summer 1984.
Bíró, G., in Filmkultura (Budapest), March 1985.
Virmaux, Alain, "D'Alfred Machin à Jacques Feyder: Débuts du cinéma belge (années 1910–1930) (musée d'Orsay, mars-avril 1997)," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), no. 245, September-October 1997.
* * *
Jacques Feyder had already made two sound films in France; his creative skills were by no means diminished by the new dimension. His successful collaboration with Charles Spaak was to further produce one of the wittiest, most colourful and amusing comedies to reach the screen, La kermesse héroïque. Taking as his subject the period of the great Renaissance of Flemish painting and the less happy era of Spanish domination, Feyder made a major contribution to "women's lib." The film satirizes political, religious, and moral pretentiousness, and the men come off second best when a strong-minded and realistic woman encounters a tricky diplomatic situation.
The little town of Boom's fussy Burgomaster and his officials cannot cope with the threat to their town when the news comes of the approach of the Spanish army under the command of a Duke. Cornelia, the Burgomaster's wife, has a plan. The Burgomaster will pretend to be dead, and she will receive the Duke and hope that in the sad circumstances he will be gentleman enough not to overstay his leave. The possibilities for comedy are wide open.
From this situation Feyder fashioned a film full of sly and subtle comment on human foibles, designed with lavish elegance, at all times a feast for the eye. Feyder, himself a Belgian, created a monument to the great visual artists of his country. The film was a crowning jewel in the great flowering of the French cinema of the 1930s. The designs of Lazare Meerson and the costumes of Benda come alive with the superb acting Feyder extracts from his players. The subtle and delicate humour, the gentle implications of the dialogue, are epitomized in the sly performance of Louis Jouvet as the Duke's chaplain. Needless to say, the Flemish ladies thoroughly enjoy the elegant manners of the Spaniards while their menfolk look helplessly on. There is a little sadness in the air as the Duke and his army leave. One feels life in the little town of Boom will never be the same again.
In making this film, of course Feyder trod on the toes of his fellow countrymen. The reaction was much like that of the Irish to The Playboy of the Western World and chauvinistic sensibilities were not easily smoothed. But the success of the film was universal, and Feyder was established as a great director.
Through an irony of history the significance of the film was soon to change. Belgium was, in fact, invaded by a less charming enemy than the Spanish Duke. Collaboration soon became a very ugly word indeed. But time was on Feyder's side, and today his masterpiece is secure in the annals of film history.