L'Air De Paris Review

The Film

It's difficult to watch L'Air de Paris without making connections with Marcel Carné's previous film, Therese Raquin. This is largely because Roland Lesaffre, whilst only in a supporting role, was quite the most interesting thing about that film and here his character that was struck down by fate there seems to have been magically resurrected. Here, the ex-soldier down on his luck finds hope and a possible escape through a star-crossed romance and a career in boxing.
Whilst this is Lesaffre's film, he is sandwiched between Jean Gabin and Arletty, whose appearances in the director's best films give plenty of hope for this project. That hope is certainly justified for a large part of the film as boxing proves a perfect arena for Carné's usual interest in the common man. Lesaffre is mentored by a kindly and ageing Jean Gabin. Gabin wants this young fighter to have the career he never did. Lesaffre dreams of breaking out of poverty and starts a romance with society queen Marie Daëms as she dreams of a similar escape from her life of a forthcoming convenient marriage. You can probably guess that social boundaries will prevent both dreams being realised together, and a culture that keeps people in their place and resigned to their class wins out. Carné presents these character's passions and tries to capture a picture of post war Paris.
Like Therese Raquin, the visual storytelling is superb with frames often composed as mini-summaries of the plot. There will be shots of Lesaffre amongst dirt and muck, Deems swimming in the middle of excessive luxury, and many instances showing the paternal love between Gabin's trainer and Lesaffre' young boxer. The execution of the boxing sequences is less impressive in the actual fisticuffs, but the spectators around the fight are much more the interest than the "sport" within the ring.

The film ends on a very tacked on note, which stinks of compromise. After spending one hundred minutes telling about class and the smashing of dreams, albeit with a lighter tone than his earlier work, the story ends with a seemingly noble sacrifice. Rather than leave things in a state of breakdown which seems inevitable given the dynamics of all we have seen, Carné chooses to redeem everyone by putting them back in their place. You can read this as cynicism or apathy but for such a romantic director as Carné this made me very edgy.
Even with this final bum note, L'Air de Paris is well made, well acted and accomplished storytelling.

Transfer and Sound

The transfer provided here is of a similar quality to Optimum's previous release of Therese Raquin. There is some damage to the print in terms of marks and hairs but very little to become distressed about. The black levels are very sound and there is an agreeable amount of film grain apparent. Edges are not emphasised, and the image is pleasingly sharp and detailed.
The sound has a bit more in the way of imperfections in terms of clicks and pops, and some rare background noise. The dialogue is clear and distortion is never a worry, the provided English subtitles are in a readable font and seem like good translations.

Discs and Special Features

This is a single layer, region 2 encoded disc. The menu is poster art in the same vein as the DVD's cover art and the sole special feature is a trailer for the film. The trailer sells the film pretty much as an upbeat comedy that reunites Arletty and Gabin, and proves that advertising people never change in their misrepresentation of a movie where both are supporting players and the tone is not optimistic.


Carné's later films are shadows of former glories, but L'Air de Paris is well made and involving if a little melodramatic. This disc has a very good transfer and other releases of the film are rather hard to find.

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Last updated: 18/04/2018 20:19:54

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