Tuesday, April 23, 2019

In Old Rooms and Dirty Streets

A street singer, a gangster, and a beautiful young Romanian woman are mixed up in a drama of love and theft in 1930's Under the Roofs of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris), one of France's first sound films. An engaging little melodrama, it makes good on the sense of scope implied by the title but has a very simple tale at its centre.

The first shot of our characters is amazing. Starting from those titular rooftops; grimy, smoky, and writhing with character, the camera slowly descends into a narrow, disjointed lane where a crowd has gathered around Albert (Albert Prejean), a street singer selling music sheets so people can sing along with him.

The camera first pauses next a to a beautiful girl in a cloche hat, standing in a doorway, watching the man dreamily. Little does she know that she'll be spending the night with him. After the gangster, Fred (Gaston Modot), steals her key, Pola (Pola Illery) reluctantly accepts Albert's offer to stay at his place.

He tries to kiss, he tries to cuddle, but she'll have none of it. Knowing she has nowhere else to go, Albert plays the gentleman. They're simple, adorable characters, both of them. Although this is a sound film, a lot of it is filmed like a silent film with scenes of broad, wordless physical storytelling, as when Albert cautiously looks out a window to watch Fred beat up a guy while he searches for Pola.

The sets are wonderfully decorated and the camera drifts away from the main characters at times to discover a man soaking his feet in an upstairs room or a large woman singing into her mirror the song Albert had taught to everyone. Eventually, the drama turns to a conflict between Albert and his friend, Louis (Edmond T. Greville), and Pola finding she must choose between two men she loves. Under the Roofs of Paris is a delightful film and it's available on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1228

The words were painted cross the canyon walls.
In tiny homes a team of curlers hug.
In arid lands a certain sport was balls.
Ideas were writ beneath a rubber rug.
A bitter mint removed the pillow treat.
No sharper sheet could cut the bed as hot.
But blunt are woven shrouds to sleepy heat.
In space it's ev'ry door that's what it's not.
Repeated eyes were linked to faces right.
And not a noseless lump but blooming snouts.
No feature caves without a touchy fight.
Or rings the ears of visage final bouts.
Endorsements inked in flattened shapes were souls.
The better beds for yams were water bowls.

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