TIFF makes an interesting choice in mounting a retrospective on the films of Gerard Blain. He was both working diligently in front of and behind the camera. And the next few weeks will show a window to where his eye goes. TIFF titled the series ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ hinting to comparison between him and his supposed American counterpart, James Dean. However, unlike Dean, Blain obviously lived on to direct for four decades, and he did have some causes.
Granted, they’re the same causes that other French writer-directors like Truffaut had, but they’re good causes nonetheless. That cause, by the way, is the child neglect that he and members of the Silent Generation experienced. And of course, part of his neuroses comes from the fear losing control and becoming just like his neglectful parents. We see Blain airing out those issues in his movies.
Le pelican is Blain’s second film as a director and arguably, the best he can do behind the camera. He got the movie through elements of his brief stints in America, his divorce, and presumably, his custody battles. To make the film less autobiographical, he adds prison to the woes of his protagonist, Paul Boyer (Blain). He dotes on his son Marc (Regis Blain, Gerard’s son), only for the law to separate them.
On the wrong hands, this film could have been some proto Men’s Rights tomfoolery. Again, it focuses on a man who thinks he can support a child. Paul is a terrible father figure. However, Gerard’s real son, also named Paul, points something out in the introduction. That Marc’s stepfather Cazenave (Daniel Sarky) neglects Marc. Nonetheless, Blain is unafraid to look smaller than Cazenave in their scenes together, adding a humility to his character.
Un enfant dans la foule is more ambitious but that has its pitfalls. Paul Blain did video introductions for both movies. In this introduction for this film, he said that this is one of his favourites. Yet he also expresses resentment that his father didn’t cast him in the lead role, Paul (Chauveau). That is a blessing in disguise, as Fictional Paul is a character who lived through traumatic Vichy France.
Fictional Paul could either be a stand in for Gerard, making this another autobiographical movie. In the end, Paul auditions for Children of Paradise, the film that catapulted Blain into stardom. Or it’s about one of the boys that Gerard beat out. This film is about the events before the that fateful audition. Paul, beforehand, is in search of a sherpa and there’s some ambiguous sexuality between him and his older male friends.
There’s something both vulgar and obtuse about how Blain portrays that subject matter. However, he fine tunes the topics that interest him. The movies he ends up making in his long career tackle class, gender and race. He also has a keen eye in how he uses his lonely external locations. He also depicts these places as dark yet colourful. His use of chiaroscuro is worth seeing on the TIFF’s big screens.
There’s also La Rebelle, which distills Blain’s interests in problematic father figures. The male characters in his films are caregivers who themselves need care. The movie’s titular rebel is Pierre (Patrick Norbert), a thief trying to support is dying mother and young sister. He also finds two older men trying to groom him. The first one is Alain (Jean-Jacques Aublanc), who wants him to join a disestablishment branch of France’s Communist Party. The second is Beaufils (Michel Subor), a more blatant version of the creepy sugar daddies that populate Blain’s older films. Maybe it’s time and the loosening of censorship but I like how Blain spells out the subtexts here.
There’s still a couple of screenings left at TIFF Bell Lightbox if you’re keen to learn any more about the cinema of Gerard Blain, you can click through right here.
- Genre: Drama
- Directed by: Gerard Blain
- Starring: Cesar Chauveau, Gerard Blain, Michel Subor, Patrick Norbert
- Produced by: Gerard Blain, Vincent Malle
- Written by: André Debaecque, Gérard Blain, Marie-Hélène Bauret, Michel Perez
- Studio: Cinépol, R.O.C., Renn Productions, Société Française de Production (SFP)