Crainquebille (1922)

Article 4632 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-17-2014
Directed by Jacques Feyder
Featuring Maurice de Faraudy, Felix Oudart, Jean Forest
Country: France / Belgium
What it is: Drama of French realism

When a thoughtless customer leaves a simple street vendor stranded in front of her shop waiting for his money, the latter gets into a tussle with a policeman who mistakenly thinks the vendor insulted him. The vendor is arrested and sent to prison, and must deal with a justice system he barely understands.

This is the kind of sad, powerful, and somewhat depressing drama that could easily drive away people who don’t like that sort of thing; however, I credit both director Jacques Feyder and actor Maurice de Feraudy (who plays the vendor) for making the movie a pleasure to watch. Part of this is due to the fact that they wisely find the humor in the story. Much of this is derived from the character of the street vendor; he is such a simple man that he never fully comprehends what is going on about him, and as a result, some of the indignities he suffers roll right off his back. Another reason is that the movie isn’t relentless in putting the character through the ringer; amidst the cruelty there are moments of generosity and kindness. Another factor is the creative direction, and this is where the fantastic content in the film comes into play. The trial sequence that takes up the middle of the film is shot more or less from the point of view of the tired, somewhat confused vendor who can’t see things clearly. As a result, we have scenes where certain characters turn into giants, others turn into midgets, and a statue of justice starts to move of its own accord. There’s also a dream sequence in which the judges turn into demons; oddly enough, it’s not the vendor who dreams this, but one of the witnesses. In the end, I really ended up being deeply moved by the movie, and enjoyed it thoroughly, though from a genre standpoint, it is somewhat marginal.

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