Synopsis by Eleanor Mannikka
Although this film was shot in 1920, it sat 63 years on the shelf before it was prepared for distribution -- undeniably a record lag-time between a shoot and the final cut. The story is set on a family's two barges, the Hirondelle and Mesange, bringing coal and other supplies to areas depleted by the recent Great War. The father captains the barges, and he and his pilot eventually develop an ever greater animosity, until it is clear that either or both are going to go over the edge. When the pilot first gains the confidence of the captain, he is armed with a potential blackmail threat: he has seen the captain do an illegal deed that will send him to prison if he is found out. Meanwhile, the captain/father feels that this pilot will make a good husband for his wife's sister -- and at first, does not know that the pilot has taken an interest in the captain's wife, and only feigns an interest in her sister. The tension heightens as the captain and the pilot go to a tavern together, both lying to each other, with the pilot completely unaware of how much the captain knows about his interest in his wife, or what he saw one day on the barge (the pilot made sexual advances on the woman and she was forced to fight him off). André Antoine shot six hours worth of film for this drama in 1920, and when Charles Pathé did not like its stunningly realistic images or its evocative outdoor setting -- he preferred the studio work that was the rage of the day, the film was not released. More than a half a century later, Henri Colpi spliced and cut the original six hours down to 79 minutes -- not an easy task because some action scenes did not fit the story line. But the result is a fascinating look at a brilliant film from a cinematic pioneer who had much to offer in his short career as a film director. Antoine was 57 years old when he shot the Hirondelle et la Mesange, his penultimate film.
barge, blackmail, captain [ship], wife, coal
High Historical Importance