La charrette fantome (1939)

aka The Phantom Wagon, The Phantom Chariot
Article 3115 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-8-2009
Posting Date: 2-24-2010
Directed by Julien Duvivier
Featuring Pierre Fresnay, Marie Bell, Micheline Francey
Country: France
What it is: Drama/Fantasy

An alcoholic tramp has a friend die on the last day of the year who then, according to legend, becomes the driver of the phantom chariot that collects the souls of the dead for the next year. A tubercular woman with the Salvation Army attempts to reform the tramp so that he will return to his wife and kids, but she fears he may become the next chariot driver…

It’s in French without subtitles, and, despite the fact that I’ve seen the earlier silent Sjostrom version, much of the story seems different this time, and, due to the language problem, is hard to follow. However, I was able to pick up at least the major threads of the story, and there’s a nice visual sense permeating the movie. Also, you don’t always need to understand the language to appreciate fine acting, and this movie has great performances from Pierre Fresnay, Micheline Francey and Louis Jouvet. Most of the movie plays like a drama, with the phantom wagon aspect of the plot only coming in near the beginning and then more extensively in the end; the special effects during these sequences are wonderful.

Some people may wonder why I bother trying to watch movies in languages I don’t understand, but I’ve grown to like the challenge, and I have experienced some lovely cinema that I might otherwise have missed. I’m glad I made the effort.

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