Destined to be a cabinetmaker, following in his father’s footsteps, Marcel Carné showed no interest for his carpentry training and took up photography classes at the Arts et Métiers School, which he paid by working as an insurance broker. He met Françoise Rosay, the wife of filmmaker Jacques Feyder, by chance, who recommended him to her husband. A few months later, he was engaged as Assistant Director for “Les Nouveaux Messieurs” (The New Men) (1928). At the same time, he took part in the critics’ competition organized by Cinémagazine and began working in journalism. He wrote for French film magazines: Hebdo-Film, Cinémonde and Film-Sonore. With his savings he bought his first camera. He tried working on documentaries with “Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche” (1929).
Enthused by Marcel Carné’s first attempts, René Clair took him on as his assistant for “Sous les toits de Paris” (Under the Roofs of Paris) (1930). Until 1936, Marcel Carné remained in the shadows of his elders, from whom he learned the job of directing films. He seconded Jacques Feyder, who he considered as his master, on three films: “le Grand Jeu” (1933), “Pension Mimosas” (1935) and “La kermesse héroïque” (Carnival in Flanders) (1935). Through Feyder, Carné met Jacques Prévert and directed his first full-length film, “Jenny” (1936), based on a scenario written by the poet. This was to be the beginning of a long partnership between the two men. Carné’s meticulous attention to ensuring that the scenes of his films that were shot outdoors portrayed the truth and were realistic, was enhanced by Prévert’s touches of poetry and humour. Carné would abandon the studios to take his camera out on the street, whilst Prévert would invent dialogues that would place the images in lyrical settings. After “Drôle de drame” (Bizarre, Bizarre) (1937), which was a failure when it was released in spite of the remarkable performances of Louis Jouvet, Jean-Louis Barrault and Michel Simon, Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert would go on to give French cinema some of its greatest successes: “Quai des brumes" (Port of Shadows) (1938), which won the Louis Delluc Prize the same year, “Le jour se lève” (The Day Rises/Daybreak) (1939), “Les Visiteurs du soir” (The Devil’s Envoys) (1942), “Les Portes de la nuit” (Gates of the Night) (1946) and, of course, “Les enfants du Paradis” (Children of Paradise) (1943), indisputable masterpiece, which crystallizes the absolute originality of Carné’s cinema. And, we should also remember the highly-moving “Hôtel du Nord”, in which Arletty performs superbly, which was the only film during the 1936-1946 period where Prévert was replaced by the screenwriter Henri Jeanson. With the end of the Second World War, the canons of poetic realism were no longer in vogue; Carné parted ways with Prévert and abandoned the great themes of love and fate which had ensured his success. He began to take an interest in colder films, where rigour and realism were no longer mitigated by the folly and the Manichaeism of the characters that he directed. “La Marie du Port” (1949), with Jean Gabin and “Thérèse Raquin” (1953), with Simone Signoret, were acclaimed for their solid construction and perfect quality. Yet, the public was disappointed as it no longer perceived the hallmark of Carné’s first films. The filmmaker would, henceforth, have varying degrees of success. Although they aimed to address issues of youth, “Les Tricheurs” (Young Sinners) (1958), which was, however, enormously successful, “Terrain vague” (Wasteland) (1960) and “Les Jeunes Loups” (1967) were far from being unanimously appreciated. There is every reason to believe that Carné, just like Prévert, did not digest their separation very well. Although the end of his career was quite subdued, Marcel Carné is one of the most important French filmmakers of the 20th century.