The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1139): HOTEL DU NORD -- A Depressing, Essential Piece of French Cinema Hits the Collection
Review by Sean Boelman
One of the best things that the Criterion Collection does is bring historically significant cinema that was once largely unavailable to the forefront. With a new 2K restoration available for the first time on Blu-Ray in the United States, Marcel Carné’s Hotel du Nord is a heart-crushing romance that any cinephile should be glad to have on their shelf.
The film follows the guests of a hotel in the low-income part of Paris as a young couple is torn apart by a suicide pact gone wrong. For some reason, the movie is billed on IMDb as a comedy, but don’t believe it. It’s actually a very depressing film — and while viewers are unlikely to finish the movie feeling good, that doesn’t make it any less of an essential watch.
Based on a novel by Eugène Dabit, the film uses its sometimes melodramatic storylines to explore themes that were then very timely about the plight of the French working class. And yet, while the movie was specifically made as a response to the zeitgeist of the 1930s, there are several aspects of its story that still ring true today.
Like many of Carné’s films, Hotel du Nord is an essential piece of cinema history in the movement that was poetic realism. With his contemporaries including Jean Renoir and Pierre Chenal, Carné was shining a light on the social issues of the time, albeit with a lens that has a very longing, almost fantastical view of life.
In the movie, audiences will see the star-crossed lovers’ plight and be absolutely heartbroken by the tragic romance that follows. It’s a classically trope that is virtually as old as literature itself, peaking in popularity with Shakespeare but standing the test of time thanks to its emotional resonance.
Much of the acting in early French cinema is theatrical in nature, and that is also the case here. The emotions on display from all involved, particularly lead actress Annabella, is exaggerated and grand in nature. But given the lens through which Carné is making the film, it’s a perfect fit for what he intends to accomplish.
The bonus features on this Criterion Edition are led by a new conversation between iconic modern French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet and journalist Philippe Morrison. The disc also includes a making-of program from 1972 and a 1994 documentary on the life and career of Marcel Carné.
Hotel du Nord is a quietly influential work of French cinema, and while its depressing tone can make it hard to watch at times, it’s something that cinephiles need to see. The new restoration is absolutely gorgeous on Blu-Ray, so you should absolutely pick this edition up.
The Criterion Collection edition of Hotel du Nord is available August 23.
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