La Marseillaise

Screening on Film
Directed by Jean Renoir.
With Pierre Renoir, Lise Delamare, William Aguet.
France, 1938, 35mm, black & white, 131 min.
French with English subtitles.
Print source: HFA

After the politics of La vie est à nous and the successes of The Lower Depths and Grand Illusion, expectations were high when Renoir announced that he was making an epic about the French Revolution. The ambitious plans for the film had to be downscaled due to budgetary constraints as production got underway. What was meant as a saga lasting several hours shrank significantly to cover the events of July 1792, when the title song came into being and when the events that would ultimately end the monarchy took place. In a perfect illustration of Renoir’s precept that “everyone has their reasons,” there are no villains. In fact, the depiction of Louis XVI as benevolent and charming astonished some of Renoir’s Popular Front friends. This Louis is no despot but another of those aristocrats—examples of whom also appear in Renoir’s successes mentioned earlier in this note—who greet the news that the end of their class has come with grace.

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