Casque d'Or - Blu-ray Review

'Simone Signoret spins around in a heady waltz which hypnotises both us and Manda simultaneously'

Strange as it may seem to cinephiles, there are those who would turn down the chance to watch a film, based on the fact that it is in black and white. Surely the main tool to convince black and white deniers that the contrary view is actually correct is to screen for them selected shots of Simone Signoret in Jacques Becker's Casque d'Or, for rarely has an actress looked so lovely in this colour palette, perfectly engaging us in the belief that Manda (Serge Reggiani) would fall for her at first glance.

That very glance forms the basis for Becker's first meaningful scene, perfectly shot, as Marie (Signoret) spins around in a heady waltz which hypnotises both us and Manda simultaneously. The delirious effect of the short glimpses of Marie passing by the camera, whilst staring it, and us, almost straight in the eye, are no accident. Becker is forcing you to fall in love and his attempts are compelling, if marginally undermined by the dated deferral to soft focus at the end of the scene.

Soon, Signoret is given the chance to prove she is more than just able to cut a lovely figure in the gaze of Robert Lefebvre's lens. Marie is strong-willed and feisty, the master of her own destiny, a modern female film figure, trapped in a film of 1898's gender politics. Having been roughed up by former lover Roland (William Sabatier) only to find that Manda is already engaged, Marie delivers him a blow to the face, 'for that's what I received earlier'. Equality of the sexes has arrived.

As the film draws near its finale, Becker is at pains to remind us that Marie is part of a dangerous world and Manda, through his earlier crimes, has taken on the role of anti-hero. The reuniting of Marie and Manda on the riverbank eventually culminates in surprisingly off-key music from Georges Van Parys, where we might be expecting a lilting love tune. Similarly, when Manda and Marie stop to watch a wedding in a church, the music resembles more of a funeral dirge and the 'happy' couple being wed seem anything but. Manda cannot wait to exit, which he does, almost immediately meeting gang boss Leca (a dapper Claude Dauphin). Becker is signalling the fact that all cannot end well for the couple and, although his techniques verge on being too forthright, the skill of their implementation is still a joy to behold.

As too though, above the subtle directorial skill, is the simple love story, the beautiful locations and, yes, Signoret spinning her waltz of love around the viewer and every character in frame. Don't be fooled by appearances though. This is a tragedy where those in love must pay for it.

Casque d'Or is released in the UK for the first time on Blu-ray on Monday 5th November 2012.

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