Casque d'Or (France, 1952):

The eponymous golden helmet is Simone Signoret's tawny bouffant, a mane when unleashed but kept mostly rolled up, crownlike; her corset not quite hiding her sultry voluminousness, the demimondaine is first spotted with the rest of the Belle Époque entourage by the river, Signoret at the oars. From "Seine at Asnieres" to "Luncheon of the Boating Party," eyes locked with Serge Reggiani's: an ex-con, now a mustached carpenter, laconic and slender and weary of trouble, one arm kept in his pocket for his twirl with Signoret across the dance floor of an al fresco tavern. Both arms are later need for a knife duel with Raymond Bussières, Signoret's dandy beau and member of the apache gang presided over by Claude Dauphin, who fronts as a wealthy wine merchant -- the swells by the tables savor the thrill of sitting next to cutthroats, though the fight in the backyard remains an unglamorous affair, Reggiani "winning" the gal and, in the process, carving the path to the guillotine. The degrading pitfalls of passion, had Clouzot filmed it, but 1890s Paris to Jacques Becker is radiantly impressionist, so the linchpin is an open-air idyll for the two lovers: Reggiani lays in the sunny field by the stream, Signoret comes rowing by and rouses him from sleep, and Becker lyrically alternates POVs, hers (a tracking shot of anticipation) and his (a close-up, aglow). The morning after brings luxuriantly tussled sheets, a bowl of coffee by the window, and the fragility of happiness, maybe; a wedding glimpsed from the back of a church seals their bond, yet personal honor calls Reggiani back to the city where Dauphin awaits. Cheese and wine offered before a robbery's booty is divvied up, Signoret and Simone walking in the woods, a friend dead on a bistro's table: "Tenderness and violence" was Truffaut's verdict, illustrating Becker's Renoirian apprenticeship (with Gaston Modot at hand) and awareness of how life's mercilessly shifting moods can be soothed by love, friendship, or the memory of a waltz. With Loleh Bellon, Dominique Davray, Paul Barge, Paul Azaïs, and Odette Barencey. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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