Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
A Pig Across Paris: The Other White Meat Goes on the Black Market
little piggy is supposed to go to the black market. It is Marcel Martin’s job to take him, but he
cannot schlep four suitcases fully loaded with pork goodness on his own. He will have some dubious help from a mysterious
stranger in Claude Autant-Lara’s classic A
Pig Across Paris (trailer
opens this Friday at Film Forum.
was once a taxi driver, but the German occupation has been bad for business, what
with the curfews, rubber and gasoline rationing, and constant military patrols. Technically, he is unemployed, but Martin
still provides for his somewhat out of his league wife through black market
gigs. Skeptical of her fidelity, Martin
button-holes Grandgil, a stranger he suspects of being her lover. When satisfied this is not the case, he
recruits the stout fellow to help him carry his freshly slaughtered baggage across
to his surprise, his new companion more or less takes over the operation. He is resourceful but somewhat reckless. They bicker like an old married couple and
the leaking baggage draws a pack of appreciative dogs, but somehow the two men
proceed to navigate the nocturnal world of air raids and police check
points. Yet, irony is always waiting
just around the corner for them.
A Pig Across
Four Bags Full, a.k.a. La traverse de Paris) is one of those
films that almost got away.
Surprisingly, it was a hit in France, but at the time, it snuck in and
out of American theaters like a black-marketeer with a side of bacon stuffed in
his trousers. Happily, it now returns to
circulation with a newly translated set of subtitles. There is indeed a reason the Nouvelle Vague
enfants terribles singled out Pig as
one of their few worthy French predecessors.
Autant-Lara’s depiction of occupied Paris is far bolder and more barbed
than really any of the films they produced in the 1960’s.
from a short story by Marcel Aymé, Pig presents
a full spectrum of cowardly and/or opportunistic behavior. This is the black market after all, not the
resistance. Indeed, the latter are
nowhere to be found. As befitting
Autant-Lara’s lefty inclinations, rather pronounced class differences emerge
between the two men.
are well paired though. As the more well-heeled
Grandgil, Jean Gabin is both appropriately manly, in a Spencer Tracy kind of way,
but also convincingly sophisticated and rather condescending. Likewise, Bourvil (as André Robert Raimbourg
billed himself) perfectly balances broad comedy with tragic pathos as the increasingly
put-upon Martin. They are one of the
great big screen odd couples.
There are a lot of funny bits in Pig, but it never whitewashes the era. Frankly, Autant-Lara’s film is not so far
removed from Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows, both in terms of their morally ambiguous milieu and quality of
execution. Highly recommended for
general audiences, A Pig Across Paris opens
this Friday (5/24) in New York at Film Forum.
Labels: French Cinema, Jean Gabin