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Silent Sunday Nights - June 2013
Remind Me

Gribiche (1925)

Jacques Feyder's Gribiche (1926), based on a short novel by Frédéric Boutet, features a likable but poor young boy nicknamed "Gribiche" (Jean Forest). He attracts the attention of Edith Maranet (Françoise Rosay), a wealthy American philanthropist, when he returns her dropped purse. She takes an interest in the boy and adopts him so that he can receive a sterling education and a better chance in life. However, he quickly tires of the stifling regimen and finds ways to rebel. The film showcases Feyder's affinity for location shooting and his tremendous skill working with child actors. At the same time, the film's set designer Lazare Meerson creates some remarkable examples of Art Deco design for the cinema.

Born Jacques Frédérix in Brussels, Belgium, Jacques Feyder (1885-1948) came from a well-to-do family with strong ties both to the military and the arts. Initially he decided to pursue stage acting, though by 1915 he began directing films for Gaumont, mostly comedies. He also appeared in films by important early directors such as Georges Méliès and Louis Feuillade. In 1919 Feyder left Gaumont and found backing to direct the lavish fantasy-adventure film L'Atlantide (1921), which became a huge international success. He followed it with the more realistic (and less expensive) Crainquebille (1922) and Faces of Children (Visages d'enfants, 1925). He then moved to Films Albatros, where he directed Gribiche, Carmen (1926) and The New Gentlemen (Les Nouveaux Messieurs, 1929).

The studio Films Albatros began as the émigré enterprise Films Ermolieff and became one of the major production companies in France during the 1920s. The original founder, Joseph Ermolieff (1889-1962), had served as a representative for Pathé in Moscow before starting his own Russian studio in 1913. As a result of the October 1917 revolution and Lenin's decree to nationalize the film industry, Ermolieff relocated his studio to Yalta. In 1920, he left for Paris and established a new production company in the suburb Montreuil with the help of the financier Alexandre Kamenka. Later, Kamenka together with Noë Bloch acquired the studio and renamed it Films Albatros. Initially they produced mainly films by Russian émigré directors such as Victor Tourjansky and Alexandre Volkoff. Ivan Mosjoukine, the most revered actor in Russia before the revolution, became their top star and a popular actor in France through vehicles such as The Late Mathias Pascal (Feu Mathias Pascal, 1926). In 1924, Kamenka began hiring French directors such as Marcel L'Herbier, Jacques Feyder and later René Clair.

Gribiche was filmed between July and September 1925 at various locations (Paris, Vincennes, Chatou, l'île Saint-Germain, Armenonville and Neuilly) and at the Albatros studios. It was the first collaboration between Feyder and the production designer Lazare Meerson (1897-1938), who indulges in stylish Art Deco interiors for Mrs. Maranet's mansion. After Gribiche, Meerson became one of Feyder's closest collaborators; the arguable highlight was the period reconstruction of a Flemish town for Carnival in Flanders (La kermesse héroïque, 1935). Another famous production by Meerson was Under the Roofs of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris, 1930), directed by René Clair. The child actor Jean Forest (1912-1980) was discovered by Feyder and first appeared in Crainquebille, followed by Feyder's deeply moving masterpiece Faces of Children. Françoise Rosay (1891-1974), born as Françoise Bandy de Nalèche, came from an aristocratic family. She debuted in a 1913 production of Falstaff and married Feyder in 1917. Although she is best known for her films with Feyder, including Le Grand jeu (1934) and Carnival in Flanders, she also worked with other important French directors such as Julien Duvivier, Marcel Carné and Marc Allegret.

As with a number of major silent films of that era, two separate negatives were created for Gribiche. The first negative, which contained Feyder's preferred takes, was intended for domestic distribution. A second negative, used to strike prints for distribution abroad, was assembled from alternate takes. Since the camera negative for the domestic version is lost, the first major restoration of the film by the Cinématheque Française used the export negative. This 2009 restoration was based on two surviving tinted nitrate prints of the original French distribution version. The musical score for this version was compiled and performed by Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Producer: Alexandre Kamenka
Director: Jacques Feyder
Script: Jacques Feyder, based on the story by Frédéric Boutet
Assistant Director: Henri Chomette
Cinematography: Maurice Desfassiaux and Maurice Forster
Set Design: Lazare Meerson
Principal Cast: Jean Forest (Antoine "Gribiche" Belot); Françoise Rosay (Edith Maranet); Cécile Guyon (Anne Belot); Rolla Norman (Philippe Gavary); Charles Barrois (Marcelin); Andrée Canti (the governess); Armand Dufour (the chauffeur); Serge Otto (the valet); Alice Tissot (the English teacher); Major Heitner (the literature teacher); Georges Pionnier (the boxing instructor); Soufflot (Percy Brown); Mme. Surgères (Mme. Veudrot); Hubert Daix (Veudrot); Victor Vina (the drunkard); Sylviane de Castillo (the society woman).

by James Steffen



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