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Port of Shadows - Criterion Collection
Port of Shadows - Criterion Collection
Actors: Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Michele Morgan, Pierre Brasseur, Édouard Delmont
Director: Marcel Carné
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Special Interests, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2004     1hr 31min

Down a foggy, desolate road to the port city of Le Havre travels Jean (Jean Gabin), an army deserter looking for another chance to make good on life. Fate, however, has a different plan for him, when acts of both revenge a...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Michele Morgan, Pierre Brasseur, Édouard Delmont
Director: Marcel Carné
Creators: Eugen Schüfftan, René Le Hénaff, Gregor Rabinovitch, Jacques Prévert, Pierre Dumarchais
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Special Interests, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance, Outdoor Recreation, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Black and White,Full Screen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 07/20/2004
Original Release Date: 10/29/1939
Theatrical Release Date: 10/29/1939
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 31min
Screens: Black and White,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 14
Edition: Special Edition,Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: French
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Brilliant Cinematic Experience in a Foggy Atmosphere...
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 07/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Jean (Jean Gabin), a deserting soldier, emerges out the darkness as an approaching truck's lights cut through the night. The truck driver offers Jean a ride which he gladly accepts as he is weary from his long journey away from his dark past in the French military, a past that Jean wants to escape as it brings him pain and anxiousness, which haunts his restless mind. Weariness and dreadful memories brings Jean into a foggy world where he drifts between sleep and awareness while the truck is traveling in the direction of the French port city of Le Havre, which is equally foggy and full of threats.

Hopeful, Jean arrives to Le Havre where he intends to find a new beginning to his life, and where he can discard his past. A port city offers several opportunities for a person such as Jean to embark on new journeys as the port is full of ships leaving each day for new destinations. Through the help of some strangers that Jean meets at a worn down tavern he begins to find a light, which could help guide him back on track to a new life. However, the fog remains as Jean's destiny has different plans for him as his good nature seems to affect the people he meets.

Port of Shadows is a poetic visualization of a realistic story, which Carne gave a magic touch to by using visual signs to enhance the cinematic experience. These signs have a symbolic value for the audience as it offers cerebral participation in the film, which can be pondered for some time. The symbolism of the fog and use of a port city has a profound effect on the films cinematic value as it may causes some cognitive dissonance as both coexist and could be associated with opposite notions. An example of this symbolic antagonism for the fog and the port is the freedom of a port and the barrier of the fog. An analogy can be drawn the antagonism between the fog and the port to Jean's ambiguous character who is good, yet capable of violence.

Port of Shadows is a powerful film based on a novel by Pierre Mac Orlan that does not leave anyone untouched regardless of background or creed. The story depicts elements of human ambiguity, crime, and love, which is elevated with brilliant cinematography and direction. The cinematography uses several close-ups and zoom-outs in order to bring the characters feelings to the audience, which enhances the visual experience of the excellent cast. In the end the audience will have experienced a most brilliant cinematic event.
Prime example of poetic realism
Damir Omeragic | Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegowina | 09/27/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Very much akin to Visconti's Ossessione made a few years later, Le Quai Des Brumes is a typically French noirish portrayal of the underbelly of society, with superb Jean Gabin in the role of a disillusioned Foreign Legion deserter torn apart between fleeing the country for good and defending his romantic interest from a host of seedy underworld characters. Irresistibly fatalistic."
Shadows & Fog
Alex Udvary | chicago, il United States | 03/27/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I first became aware of director Marcel Carne when I saw "Children of Paradise". In a review I wrote on here for that movie I said to call it a masterpiece is to understate it's case. The same can be said for "Port of Shadows", easily one of the greatest films I have ever seen.

The movie stars Jean Gabin as a soldier running away from the past. What exactly did he do? I don't know, we get the hint he must be a deserter, but maybe that's just the beginning of his problems. Whatever the case may be it doesn't matter. All that matters is the fact he wants to get away. Jean (that's his character's name) finds himself in a hideout run by a man called Panama (Edouard Delmont) which is near what is known as "the port of shadows". Here is where Jean will get all the help he needs to leave the country. But things are never that easy. For instance he meets a girl, Nelly (Michele Morgan) and gets mixed up with criminals; Zabel (Michel Simon) and Lucien (Pierre Brasseur). And soon Jean fears he may be a suspect in a murder.

Jean Gabin is an absolute natural for a role like this. He practically invented the character in "Pepe le Moko". A character that American actors such as Humphrey Bogart would play in films like "Casablanca". Gabin has those rough edges around his face and a dour look on his face that leads us to believe the guy has been through a lot. This is a complete contrast to the look Michele Morgan has. She is to put bluntly a beauty!

The film was based on a novel written by Pierre Mac Orlan and was adapted by Jacques Prevert (a poet as well as songwriter. If you are familiar with the song "Autumn Leaves" he wrote the lyrics). I've never read the book so I cannot comment on how faithfully this film is adapted, but I can say Carne does a masterful job directing this movie. The film takes us down paths I wasn't expecting to travel. Carne doesn't throw too much in our face. He lets the story flow at it's own pace. And things move along quite quickly. The film is only 90 minutes. But at the same time, nothing feels rushed. We understand these characters, their situations and the fate that awaits them. Having only seen two films from this director I'm ready to call him a master. His films manage to touch me on a deep personal level. He creates characters that seems to live off the page. And just think, this was Carne's third film! He clearly had a natural gift. And luckily people took notice during his lifetime. "Port of Shadows" won the National Board of Review award for "Best Foreign Film".

As for the film's title, at first I wondered how they arrived at it. We don't find out the name of the port until the end of the film but couldn't it have a double meaning? Couldn't the "port of shadows" refer to a place where people go looking to escape the shadows of their past? Or maybe it's just that you can't see a darn thing with all that fog hanging around!

Bottom-line: Marcel Carne's film is one of the greatest I have ever see. Carne handles the story and the characters with a sure touch. The movie takes some unexpected turns and takes what could have been a simple story and transcends it into something much more."
Poetic Coincidences?
Alton Gray | Norfolk, VA | 07/23/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"An example of poetic realism, the French film movement (atmosphere would be more precise) between WWI and WWII, Port of Shadows is heavy on coincidence beginning, arguably, with the truck driver who transports Jean, the Jean Gabin character (and us) into the film. Jean hasn't eaten for two days and is given free food by an innkeeper; he meets a girl and the attraction is mutual; he needs new clothes and a passport so an artist commits suicide and leaves both to him, etc.

All of this would make for a predictable run-of-the-mill thing except for the fact that there is more than coincidence going on here and that the coincidences themselves are in many ways of little concern to the point of the film. Indeed, it seems that the filmmakers used coincidence as a way of dispensing with nettlesome plot necessities in order to focus more intently on what they wanted the film to convey. What it does convey, and quite nicely, is the sense of impending doom, a haunted past (Jean is a deserter who seems to harbor darker secrets in his past), the venality and corruptability of man, love gained and lost, and the futility of daily life when stacked against all of that. Hardly a sunny romp in the woods (somehow the fog seems to linger even in bright sunlight), but an entertaining film nonetheless.

Aside from the coincidences and the atmosphere, another interesting aspect is the way in which the Gabin character exits outside of society. A deserter (and one sense that he joined the army only a way to escape some former social unit), he has left behind that society in search of, not really another one, but perhaps a way to live outside any society at all, at least until he meets the girl. Ill-tempered, abrupt, pugnacious he is an anti-social individual whose wounds and attitudes seem to have been instilled by previous social encounters. He is about escape (and not just to South America on the freighter which is coincidently [there's that word again] departing soon, but only after affording him sufficient time to pursue the girl. His escapes are from the army, from France, from society, ultimaly from himself and, most likely, that past which rendered all escapes necessary in the first place.

He meets his end as a result of his entanglement with the woman (an attempt to re-enter society?) and as a result of a chivalrous act towards her. No femme fatale, she is innocent in the bringing about of his downfall, but brings it about nonetheless. Filled with a fog that could be fate, could be the haze of the past, or could be simply photogenic the film is an enjoyable example of French poetic realism, sort of like an American film noir without the suspense and without the scheming woman but with all of the sense of loss, unfulfilled (or only sporadically realized) desires and dark workings of fate characteristic of that genre. Suspend some of the expectations Hollywood films have created in most of us, spend some time here and you will be rewarded. You can call it a coincidence."