Port of Shadows

I love Jean Gabin so very much, so any film where I get to see him is a treat. It didn’t hurt that everyone around him was almost as excellent.

This film belongs to a genre called “poetic realism.” It took me quite a while, and some critical reading, to understand what that term meant. As far as I can grasp it, the idea is to present the lives of “everyday” people, as opposed to glamorized rich people. The poetic part comes in as the trials and tribulations of these people are dramatized and presented with poetic elegance. The whole thing is meant to lift up the stories of the poor, the downtrodden, those just getting by, and make them seem artful. It’s at times absolutely ridiculous and I absolutely love it.

This film tells the story of an army deserter who has come to a port town, in an attempt to make his way out of the country and far from his problems. The only trouble is, he can’t seem to stop himself from getting involved in the lives of the people he meets. From an early encounter with a truck driver and a dog, all the way to the end, he simply cannot avoid becoming intertwined with everything around him. The story follows him through a seedy world of low-level crooks, and through his own immediate love affair with a young lady he happens to meet. These characters meet, fall in love, and, of course, tragedy ensues. Part of the realism aspect is that there cannot be a happy ending.

This is the tragic made beautiful. That’s about as good a summation of my taste as almost any I’ve heard. Sad songs make me smile, and sad movies that have some hope fill me with joy. There’s just something infinitely more interesting in the struggles of these people. Their lives are hard. They have nowhere to go. It feels absurdly inauthentic, but at the same time rooted in reality. I think I’ve just figured out another film genre to love, and I can’t wait to see what other films like this I get to encounter.