Directed by Jacques Feyder. France. 1934.

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Very appropriately, for our times, the star of this film is Pierre Martel (Pierre Richard-Willm), a feckless playboy who nearly ruins his family’s business. His wild ways of drunken excess are finally put to an end when he is sacked, and he has to confront the problem of making a living.

As Martel contemplates his future, his girlfriend Florence (Marie Bell) decides that a world of poverty is not something she wants to experience. Abandoned by girlfriend and family, he seeks refuge in the French Foreign Legion.

His new comrades and the tough discipline distract him from his old life, yet he cannot forget Florence. As he and his troops relax from their duties in North Africa, Martel sees Irma who resembles Florence. He is obsessed with the idea that she is really Florence, and tries to rescue her from her current situation.

Like James Stewart in Vertigo, Martel cannot cope with the real world and has to shape a woman into his ideal object of desire. As might be expected this is on the rocky road to complete madness.

Le Grand Jeu shows life in the cheap hotel, where Martel gets tarot readings from the wife of the owner. Blanche’s (Françoise Rosay) readings give him hope but eventually cast a shadow on his eventual fate.

Just as Martel carries out his plan to take Irma back to France, to restore his life, the real Florence turns up. This sends him back into his former state of despair, and he resigns himself to a life with the Foreign Legion.

As Ginette Vincendeau notes in the accompanying booklet, this film uses haunting black and white imagery combined with visual lyricism in a colonial setting to show a group of doomed characters, who are trapped by fate and circumstance. The expertise of Feyder is that he turns this into a triumph of poetic realism.

The Masters of Cinema Series presented Le Grand Jeu’s first home video release in the UK, on DVD, on 21 June 2010.

Beautiful digital transfer, officially licensed from Pathé’s film restoration unit.

New English subtitle translation.

Booklet featuring a new essay by French cinema scholar Ginette Vincendeau, newly translated writings by Feyder, reminiscences by his collaborators and production stills.
DVD Catalogue No: EKA40319
DVD Barcode: 5060000403190
DVD RRP: £19.99
Release Date: 21 June 2010
Certificate: TBC
Run Time: 110 min
Format:  1.37:1 OAR/ B&W
Genre: World Cinema

Nigel Watson
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