Safe Conduct and La nuit fantastique

From the September 2, 2005 Chicago Reader. — J.R

These two features, which open the Film Center’s month-long series “Gilding the Cage: French Cinema of the Occupation,” show that there are both rational and irrational ways of understanding the period. Bertrand Tavernier based his fascinating drama Safe Conduct (2001, 163 min.) on the memories of two of his friends — Jean Aurenche, an apolitical screenwriter, and Jean Devaivre, an assistant director who served as a member of the Resistance. It’s the most textured portrait of the Occupation I know, exploring the complex moral choices each man faced in working for a German film production company. By contrast, Marcel L’Herbier’s  La nuit fantastique  (1942, 100 min.) is a whimsical yet brittle nocturnal fantasy that consists mainly of a nerdy Parisian student’s expressionistic, romantic dream about pursuing an imaginary beauty. It’s the first film scripted by Louis Chavance, editor of L’Atalante and writer of the corrosive Le corbeau (showing next week), and it oddly evokes both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Eyes Wide Shut in its troubled moods and dreamlike studio settings (e.g., a formal ball at the Louvre, complete with magic show and trapdoors). Its illogical drift seems to convey the creepy collective unconscious of the occupation, so indelibly that even the happy ending turns out to be deeply disturbing. Both films are in French with subtitles. Fri 9/2, 6:30 PM, and Sun 9/4, 3 PM (Safe Conduct), and Sat 9/3, 3 PM, and Wed 9/7, 6 PM (La nuit fantastique), Gene Siskel Film Center.

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