Film Review: Le Quai des Brumes

Marcel Carné’s Le Quai des Brumes is a brooding affair. The 1938 film is well executed, creating a rather haunting atmosphere despite the presence of some humour.

Having left the army, Jean hitchhikes to Le Harve, a French port city. Still in his army uniform and without money, Jean lucks upon a place to stay. Looking for a route out of the country, Jean may have just found an escape. However, he also finds Nelly, a beautiful young girl…

Le Quai des Brumes compiles elements of drama with an undercurrent of crime and humour. The result is a film that gradually sneaks up on viewers, drawing them in casually but effectively. Le Quai des Brumes depicts helplessness well; there is an overarching feeling that the protagonists is not really in control of his destiny, in spite of any action he may take.

The ambiguity over the background of Jean remains throughout the film. Although it is insinuated that he is a deserter, little else is established about his background. This does not hinder the audiences’ enjoyment of the film, or the ability to empathise with the character. His actions during the course of the film, as well as his emotions, are enough to engage viewers.

Le Quai des Brumes also features some interesting supporting characters. Some of these provide much of the film’s humour. The film’s antagonist, however, is suitably creepy. The villain of the film remains a mystery until the final act, although hints are dropped beforehand.

Carné makes use of shadows to create a brooding atmosphere. It helps that the film takes place mostly at night. Some moments of action show their age, but the film holds up well otherwise. There are some frank depictions for the time; it is understandable why the film was edited originally. Jean Gabin plays Jean with the necessary tension imbued in the character. Michèle Morgan is good as Nelly, portraying the character’s passion and independence effectively.

Le Quai des Brumes is an engaging film, which exhibits Carné’s flair for cinema.

Le Quai des Brumes is being screened at the British Film Institute as past of their Jean Gabin season, as well as at selected cinemas.