Made during the gathering storms of war, economic collapse, and social unrest—and in the same radical cinematic year as Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey and Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, et al.’s La vie est à nous—La belle équipe has long been considered a celebration of Popular Front ideals of working-class solidarity and universal brotherhood. But the director’s preferred tragic ending renders this one of Duvivier’s bleakest masterpieces. Five penniless workers win the lottery and are able to realize their dream of opening a guinguette (café and pleasure garden) on the banks of the river Marne. Duvivier uses beautifully fluid camerawork, pastoral settings, and popular song to mark the escape of the five men from the crushing defeat of poverty—until their noble enterprise is sabotaged by a crime of passion. —BAM/PFA
Born in Lille in 1896, Julien Duvivier was a stage actor and then production assistant on André Antoine’s films before starting as a director in 1919. His prolific career – over 60 films – only ended on his death in 1967. After twenty or so silent movies inspired from many different sources, he attained international recognition in the 1930′s with movies which have become classics of “poetic realism”, notably the sound remake of Poil de carotte (1932), La Belle équipe (1936) and Pépé le Moko (1937).
After exile in Hollywood during the war, he returned to France in 1946 but failed to regain his former critical standing, despite such remarkable films as Panique (1947), Voici le temps des assassins (1956) and Pot Bouille (1957). He enjoyed international succes with The Little World of Don Camillo (1951). —Octuor de France