Released in France as La Kermesse Heroique, Carnival in Flanders is set during the long-ago war between the Dutch and Spanish. A tiny village in Flanders is invaded by Spanish troops. The townsfolk have heard of Spanish cruelties in other towns, and decide to deflect the vanquishers by playing dead. This isn’t terribly effective (you have to take a breath once in a while), so the wife of the burgomaster tries to soften up the invaders with a lavish carnival. So successful is this venture that the Spaniards allow the village to escape being decimated, or even taxed. An award-winner many times over, Carnival in Flanders was banned in Germany; evidently, Goebbels caught on that director Jacques Feyder and scenarists Bernard Zimmer and Charles Spaak were drawing deliberate parallels between the Spanish and the then-burgeoning Nazis.
A French film-maker of Belgian origins, born under the name of Jacques Frédérix in 1885. His family intended him to follow a military career, but he changed his name and chose first, the theater, and then the cinema in 1912. He debuted as a director with Gaumont in 1915. L’Atlantide brought him international fame in 1921. Thus started a cosmopolitan career with many ups and downs and films made in the studios of Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Los Angeles and London.
Returning to Paris from a disappointing stay in Hollywood, he found new inspiration with a series of films starring his talented wife, Françoise Rosay : Le Grand jeu (1934), Pension Mimosas and the famous Carnival in Flanders (1935). He died in Switzerland in 1948. —Octuor de France
The Feyder/Spaak partnership is not as renowned as the Carné/Prévert collaboration but the three films they made together in quick succession after Feyder returned from Hollywood are as good as anything in mid-'30's French cinema. In this one, the director's wife Rosay shines as the no-nonsense Mayor's wife in a 17th century Flanders village who charms the invading Spanish troops. A quite delicious historical comedy.
A look at some of the best original French posters for the films in Film Forum’s current series: The French Old Wave.