Gates of the Night ★★★★★

Another wonderful collaboration between French director Marcel Carne and surrealist poet/screenwriter Jacques Prevert. They made a number of films together in the 1930s and 1940s, including one of my all-time favorites "Children of Paradise" and this was their last. It doesn't disappoint although it is not quite as marvelous as some of their earlier work.

The film is set during the end of WWII, Paris being liberated and the end of the war in sight. It takes place over a single night and there is a haunting and magical feel throughout. The themes, though are darker - the effects of those who collaborated with the Nazis and turned against their friends, war profiteers and unhappy marriages. Two love affairs blossom in the midst of this, one with a young couple, the other with a more mature couple (the two leads), and a tragic and sad ending. There is a somewhat sinister tramp-like figure who represents Destiny, commenting on the proceedings and the fates of the various characters.

I loved this film, as I do most of Carnes' work - the beautiful poetic story, the memorable assortment of characters, the allusions to classic mythology and the wonder of children. The leads were originally supposed to be Jean Gabin and Marlene Dietrich (!). But according to a blog I read, Dietrich backed out and Gabin proved too difficult on the set so was replaced. His replacement was 25 year old Yves Montaud, who was not well-known at the time. He does quite well in the lead. I cannot say the same for Dieitrich's replacement Nathalie Nattier, who is lovely to look at but doesn't come near what Dietrich might have brought to the role. I was also impressed with Serge Reggiani, who plays a collaborator who gradually confronts the level of betrayal and pain he's caused, and Jean Vilar who plays the tramp.

Finally, the music is beautiful and haunting, and a major theme in the film was later turned into the hit "Autumn Leaves", revised and refurbished by Johnny Mercer.

A beautiful film, and currently available to stream through the Criterion Channel.