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Casque D’Or

****
1952

‘…this is very much Signoret’s movie, and her every move reveals her as the iconic beating dramatic heart of the demi-monde of La Belle Epoque…’

Ou sont les neiges d’atan? Or indeed, where are the snows of yesteryear? Times change, but great stars never fade. Simone Signoret was one of cinema’s great performers, not just a pretty face, but a unique, luminous talent that could centre a whole project; Jacques Becker’s agonisingly downbeat yet assuredly romantic 1952 classic gets a big screen and blu-ray revival here from Studio Canal to celebrate its 70th anniversary, and it’s a great choice for 4K restoration. While Casque d’Or has rarely been out of circulation, Signoret’s films aren’t frequently enough seen or celebrated, making this a welcome chance to see what all the fuss was about back in the day.

Signoret plays a courtesan here, Marie, who is known as Casque d’Or (or rather less poetically the Golden Helmet) because of her lustrous barnet. In a sumptuous musical opening with a 19th century Paris theme, we see that Marie is tiring of being a moll to a small-time, no mark gangster, but her eyes drift to Georges Manda (Serge Reggiani) who is an ex-con seeking work. Marie and Georges have a thing going on, but mob boss Felix Leca (Claude Dauphin) isn’t having any of it, and sets up a back-street gang fight to take Manda out of the picture. But Manda is made of sterner stuff, and manages to defeat and kill his opponent, fleeing with Marie to a temporary respite in the idyllic countryside. But fate isn’t on the couple’s side, and a return to the city proves fatal…

Casque d’Or has a number of talking points; despite their low social standing, it’s easy to get behind star-crossed lovers Georges and Marie when they go on the run. That’s partly because they’re unfairly maligned, but also we see, as they cross themselves leaving church, that they’ve got far more values than their more socially respectable tormentors. Becker’s direction is always on point; from a merciless, yet sensual close-up on Signorent’s weeping face (above) to the shocking sound of a gun firing despite the weapon itself being is out of frame, Casque d’Or is always bending cinematic rules and conventions to create a fresh narrative style of its own.

With a strong female lead, unconventional moral code and a remarkably downbeat ending that’s become something of a cinematic legend, (no spoilers here), Casque d’Or is a terrific movie that should please any genuine, mature cineaste. And it’s a welcome reminder of the power of women in cinema; despite a male production team, this is very much Signoret’s movie, and her every move reveals her as the iconic beating dramatic heart of the demi-monde of La Belle Epoque.

Extras -“Alex and Marie: Once Upon a Time There Was Casque d’Or”

“In the Heart of Hearts – The Legend of Casque d’Or”

NEW Trailer

CASQUE D’OR HITS IN UK CINEMAS FROM TODAY, FRIDAY 25TH NOVEMBER 2022, THEN ON UHD BLU-RAY, BLU-RAY, DVD and DIGITAL from 28TH NOVEMBER 2022. THANKS TO STUDIO CANAL FOR ACCESS.

 

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    • Yup, I think this is one of the key texts for her, and I was thrilled to review the disk; like you, I know her later work better…

  1. One of my favourite films this one… surely it can stake a claim to being one of the greatest of all great french films, (and there are many of those)!

    I’ve always found it strikingly modern in it’s characters, direction, energy, and the story is brilliantly told.

    By the the way I’ve sometimes pondered whether Nintendo stole this poor carpenter character with his moustache and ker-pow, and turned him into a plumber for their Super Mario character?! Cross-fertilisation!

    • That last paragraph came out of nowhere, but I can totally see where you’re coming from! A Casque d’Or themed platform game is something I’d be keen to develop.

      More sensibly, this is a welcome reminder of how good French cinema could be. Great costumes and atmosphere, a classic story that never panders to what the audience crave, but gives it to them in stark, tragic terms that feel all the more intense because the characters engage. Lovely to see it restored too, technically a dream.

  2. I’m with you all the way re Signoret (and Becker). There are few actors and few stars capable of matching Signoret. She was very beautiful in the 1940s as a young woman but highly impressive in the 1960s and 1970s because of her acting skills. She herself felt, however, that she was not properly respected in the Anglophone world until her Oscar-winning performance in Room at the Top in the UK in 1958 (the 1960 Oscars).

    • She utterly dominates this film in a way that few performers can; you feel like the universe revolves around her. And as you say, while she was a great beauty, she absolutely had the acting prowess, even if that was only apparent to British audiences later in her career. Great to see this pin sharp revival.

  3. Terrific review for a beautiful film from our french patrimonial stock. Becker is such an important director, naturalastic with a sharping style, not far from the great Jean Renoir which is far more renown. You’ve had a good idea to put “Casque d’Or” back into the light.

    • Thank you! And yes, I think Renoir is better known, but Becker is a pleasure to watch, and I was delighted to have the chance to review this luminous film. Thanks!

    • This is a classic of French cinema BEFORE the new wave, and that’s a great period that doesn’t get the attention it deserves today, partly because of the focus on the revolution to come. But this is a rewarding film, a little starchy in places to modern eyes, but the value of the film shines through; there’s a reason that the French have this movie on STAMPS!

  4. I’m not a mature cineastey thing either (what a pretentious sounding word really,) so I’ll forgo the dubious delights of Mlle Simone and her band of unmerry messieurs, and instead will laud the lady of the house who has a lovely purity of voice, (though an unfathomable penchant for standing in a loch fully dressed).

    • It’s the only fun we get around here, but I will pass your generous comment to the artiste involved, thanks!

  5. Not being a mature cineaste, I must admit that I’ve never heard of this actress. Or if I have, I’ve completely forgotten. Probably all that amateurish crap I read 😉

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