Under the Roofs of Paris (1930)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Jan 2, 1930 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - France  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

A sweet and simple yet utterly disarming film, Under the Roofs of Paris has perhaps dated a bit since its initial release, but not enough to keep it from being recognized as a minor masterpiece. The story in this part-talking, part-silent hybrid is a bit weak, a fact which was recognized even back in 1930; but it is told with such consummate skill (by writer/director René Clair) that most will forgive it this weakness. From the moment Roofs opens, with a tracking shot that takes the audience from above the roofs of Paris and down into a working class district of the city, it's clear that the film is in the hands of a master, and Clair has plenty of other tricks up his sleeve to keep the viewer engaged. Case in point: a wordless sequence that concentrates solely on the feet of two characters and tells more about where they are in their relationship than many pages of dialogue could. Or the climactic fight sequence, played out under a harsh streetlight, but obscured by both the darkness of the night and objects the director places in front of the camera to add to the confusion and uncertainty. Or again, in his use of sound, as music or dialogue is often muted or increased at the opening or closing of a door. Clair is helped enormously by the beautiful lensing of Georges Périnal and by Lazare Meerson's sets, which exaggerate reality just enough to achieve poetry. The cast, led by Albert Prejean and Pola Illery, also deserves credit, but in the end, it's Clair that makes what could have been a very good film into a truly memorable one.