L’Homme du large, Marcel L’Herbier’s first great film, offers an extraordinarily compelling portrayal of the forces of good and evil that motivate human behaviour. Whilst it does not have the huge epic scale of some of L’Herbier’s subsequent films, it is nonetheless a masterwork of cinematic storytelling and uses a dazzling range of photographic techniques to hold the audience’s attention.
The harsh Brittany coast provides an appropriate setting for this austere tale of filial betrayal and redemption. The alluringly beautiful but fearsome open sea emphasises the temperament of the fisherman Nolff, a simple solitary soul whose only wish is that his son becomes like him. Meanwhile, the scenes of wild debauchery in a town tavern (at one time censored for being too explicit) reveal the true nature of Nolff’s wayward son, Michel. The narrative approach is simple but it is astonishingly effective, with moments of harrowing dramatic intensity gradually building to a genuinely poignant climax. In addition, the documentary-style filming of an Easter festival provides an illuminating record of Breton life in the early part of the Twentieth Century.
The historic importance of L’Homme du large is summed up Henri Langlois, founder of the cinématèque française, who described the film as the first example of “écriture cinématographique”. It also marked the screen debut for famed French actor Charles Boyer. The film was recently restored (by Gaumont in 1998), complete with the original colour tints and decorated caption cards. —filmsdefrance.com
Marcel L’Herbier is unquestionably one of the most important figures in the history of French cinema. His contribution is not restricted to the films he directed, many of which are widely recognised as genuine masterpieces. He also worked actively to promote cinema as an art form in its own right, helping to ensure that France maintained its position of eminence in a medium which was becoming increasingly dominated by the Americans. Moreover, his films and his writings have inspired successive generations of filmmakers, many of whom went on to become just as influential in French cinema.
L’Herbier was born in Paris is 1888. Having studied law at the Sorbonne, he was drawn to literature (particularly the works of Oscar Wilde and Nietzsche) and he decided to pursue a career as a writer. He published his first novel, “In the Garden of Secret Games”, in 1914. He wrote a stage play “L’Enfantement du mort, miracle en pourpre, noir et or”, an anti-war piece which was not performed until… read more