Port of Shadows (Le Quai des Brumes) is a film directed by Marcel Carné in 1938. It stars well-known early French actor Jean Gabin, who was best known for his collaborations with Jean Renoir and Carné. The film shares it’s cinematic town Le Havre with the recent film of the same name. It’s also one of many predecessors to film noir like The Petrified Forest, M and Pépé le Moko (which also starred Gabin). It is also perhaps the most 2 ever made, I don’t mean that just cause it’s black and white but the whole colour is very high contrast grey with very little black.
The film tells the story of an army deserter Jean (Jean Gabin) who hitchhikes to the port town of Le Have. He meets a drunk on his first night in town and takes him to a dive bar on the edge of the shipyard. He meets a girl Nelly (Michèle Morgan). Her ex lover goes missing, Jean and Nelly hook up, they have to deal with her creepy godfather oh and there are some gangsters as well.
It’s one of the key films of the French poetic realism movement of the mid 30s to early 40s along with other legendary filmmakers like Jean Vigo and the previously mentioned Jean Renoir. It was very much the link between German Expressionism and the Film Noir of the 1940s and 1950s but was equally influences on the French New Wave and the earlier Italian Neorealism. I’m a much bigger fan of poetic realism than the more common socio-realism, which is very prevalent in British cinema. It’s all very much studio based and much more it’s aesthetically concerned then a amazing story, they stories all rather simple. They also tend to share a world-weary view of the world, which is clearly influential on the characters in British film noir.
The film is filmed in glorious high contrast grey film stock, which is so foggy but in a beautiful way, it’s spellbinding. Jean Gabin is totally wonderful in the film, as is Michèle Morgan. Carné uses really effective metaphor of a ship in a bottle to symbolize the characters sense of entrapment. It was actually criticized by government officials as helping the Nazis beat France because of it’s negativity towards the state and the morals of the French Character.
Overall, it’s a wonderful influential piece of proto-noir, which should be seen and cherished. It has been recently reissued by StudioCanal on blu-ray and dvd and is certainly worth tracking down.