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In a dreary Normandy resort town, Jean Gabin maintains a precarious perch on the wagon. Once France's biggest lush, Gabin has sworn off the stuff since a dark moment of the war and he hasn't wavered since. But into this town stumbles Jean-Paul Belmondo, Gabin's heir apparent to the drinking title.
That's the situation in "Monkey in Winter," a 1962 film having its "Boston premiere" at the Brattle this week. The plot's a natural; so is the film. On top of some solid, straightforward direction (by Henri Verneuil) and a lush background score, "Monkey in Winter" has the slickest combination of all--Gabin and Belmondo.
Belmondo is Gabin's successor as the troubled young tough guy of the French cinema. But cast together, each has stepped out of basic snarl. Gabin is a mellowed inn-keeper, content with the quiet life of his tiny Tigreville. And Belmondo--the nihilistic punk of "Breathless"--is a harried advertising man who hits the bottle more often than any girl friend.
It's clear from the start that the two will go on some sort of bender before the end ,(it's a beauty when it comes), but even before then Gabin and Belmondo have bounced their personalities off each other to fine effect. At one points the latently alcoholic Gabin and the actively drunk Belmondo compare the far-flung fantasies each has known while drunk. In doing so, they display both a humor and quiet intensity that rises from more than what they actually do or say. They ("the nobility of drunkards") share an understanding the audience is also allowed to comprehend.
The film is hardly a cry in the wilderness for intemperance. It ends on a slight touch of sadness, with both men realizing that liquor provides only temporary escape from a world as dismal as Tigreville. But along the way, there are some wonderfully mad, hilarious sprees. Belmondo is particularly fine playing matador to a highway full of cars.
More than an appreciation of booze, "Monkey in Winter" is a gentle plea for understanding the dreams some men have. They will wake up to reality by themselves, despite the occasional crutch of liquor, but why burst a bubble before then. Beyond the simple message is simple fun. Belmondo and Gabin together for the first time--and drunk to boot. It couldn't miss, and it doesn't.
The CRIMSON is pleased to announce the election of Anne P. de Saint Phalle '70 of 130 Walker St. and Philadelphia; William R. Galeota Jr. '70 of Greenough Hall and Columbia, Mo.; Kerry Gruson '69 of 100 Walker St. and Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland; Seth A. Lipsky '68 of Lowell House and Great Barrington; and Richard D. Paisner '70 of Wigglesworth Hall and Providence, R.I., to the News Board.
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