Jacques Becker Gets Hands Dirty in Early Career

Goupi Mains Rouges

GOUPI MAINS ROUGES (1943)

Directed by: Jacques Becker

Starring: Fernand Ledoux, Georges Rollin, Blanchette Brunoy

Where: Busan Cinematheque

When: February 11 at 17:30, February 17 at 13:00, and February 21 at 17:20

Nazi-occupied France was certainly not the most fertile breeding ground for working filmmakers at the time. The collaborating Vichy government imposed strict censorship, and many of the country’s most accomplished directors, such as Jean Renoir, Rene Clair, and Julien Duvivier, fled to Hollywood. Yet, that isn’t to say that this repressive environment didn’t produce anything noteworthy. Marcel Carne’s “Children of Paradise” and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “The Raven,” two masterpieces of French cinema made during the German occupation, are a couple that come to mind.

Jacques Becker was still in the early phase of his career when he directed “Goupi Mains Rouges” (It Happened at the Inn) smack in the middle of World War II. The film takes place in the French countryside at an inn owned and inhabited by an eccentric family by the name of Goupi. Eugene Goupi (Georges Rollin), a tie salesman who lives in Paris, returns to his hometown after a 20 year absence and is introduced to all of his country-bumpkin relatives. It isn’t long before his aunt’s dead body is discovered and he finds himself involved in the investigation into her murder. The rest is pretty straightforward – maybe even too much so. It unfolds as a simple yarn that includes basic themes of greed, love and betrayal. I can appreciate Becker’s ballsy deconstruction of the Vichy ideals of “Travaille, Famille, Patrie” – which he achieves by ridiculing the typically French working class Goupi family – but the movie never goes much further than that. There just isn’t much there other than a fairly neatly wrapped up murder mystery story.  And as far as suspense movies go, it isn’t very intriguing.

Becker is definitely still getting his footing as a filmmaker. While “Goupi Mains Rouges” may be a solid effort, it just doesn’t compare to his later more important works like “Touchez Pas Au Grisbi” (1954) and “Le Trou” (1960).  The film neither really fails nor succeeds – the plot falls into place quite nicely, and the characters are all colorful but the film as a whole doesn’t leave a lasting impression.

Rating: 53/100

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