Thursday, April 19, 2018

At NYC's FIAF next week: another delectable Sacha Guitry delight, THE STORY OF A CHEAT

Lovers of classic French cinema had better mark their calendar for this coming Tuesday, April 24, when FIAF's New York City branch screens one of cinema/theater-master Sacha Guitry's enduring works, THE STORY OF A CHEAT (Le roman d'un tricheur) from 1936. TrustMovies has come quite late to discovering the films of this fellow, having just recently seen and reviewed his remarkable La Poison. As I noted earlier, and now feel even more strongly, I want to view anything by M. Guitry that I can get my hands on. The filmmaker, shown below, came from theatrical roots, which can be seen and heard in his remarkable dialog and his delightful way with words.

Sophisticated and urbane, Guitry had a grand understanding of humanity's foibles, including not only its need for hypocrisy and denial but also for bonding, beauty and love. He's a satirist who is wonderfully humane but rarely sentimental and never stupid. He sees the irony in just about everything and everyone, and this gives his work a consistent jolt of pleasure and surprise. Don't get too comfortable, he seems to be telling us, because that kick in the ass is just around the corner.

The tale Guitry tell here is one of a late-middle-aged fellow sitting at a little Parisian cafe, writing his memoir (beginning with his life as a child, above, in a family of 12) -- which springs to life as he writes and speaks. Much of the movie is told via narration (there is surprisingly little actual dialog here), and were this narration not so cleverly written and sustained via Guitry's wit and charm, we might grow weary of it. No chance of that.

How the child is suddenly orphaned and why he survives -- it involves thievery and punishment -- ought to be awful and horrifying. In Guitry's hands it is instead delightfully funny and witty, and so we follow this kid as he grows into an adolescent, then a young man and then into full maturity -- as both the "cheat" of the title (above) and yet somehow not quite a cheat at all.

The world is filled with cheats of all types and both sexes, we -- and our narrator -- soon learn, and these involve everyone from the woman with whom he has his first affair to his later jewel-thief mistress (above), and his even later on-paper-only wife (who eventually is to become, unknown to her, his one-night-stand). More of these cheats are female than male -- the men seeming to be the stronger and perhaps more trustworthy sex.
Based upon the two films I've so far seen, Guitry could be accused of some misogyny, I think, and probably rightly so. He's a child of his time, after all, who perhaps today would have grown out of this, at least somewhat. I may have to correct my views once I've seen more of his work. Even so, this trait does not overpower the many strengths this writer/filmmaker possesses.

Nothing is sacred here: not gambling, not sex, not childhood, not family, and certainly not the Principality of Monaco! Well, maybe friendship. That seems to be something that could stand the test of time. Meanwhile, we have some delightful locations, assignations and peregrinations to enjoy. 

Guitry's sublime sense of irony, his great skill at story-telling, and above all his love of humanity in all its sublime silliness and sadness makes this movie a keeper indeed. How lovely that FIAF is showing the film as part of its CinéSalon series, Classic of French Cinema with Olivier Barrot, the journalist and TV personality.

The Story of A Cheat will screen at FIAF this coming Tuesday, April 24, at 4pm and 7:30, with the talk by M. Barrot scheduled for 6:45pm and open to audiences at both screenings. As usual with CinéSalon, there will be a post-screening wine/beer reception. For more information and/or tickets, simply click here.

For those of you not in the tri-state area or who can't make the FIAF screening, it may be of service to know that the film also exists on DVD via Criterion and its no-frills Eclipse collection and via FilmStruck -- for purchase, rental or streaming. 

Click here for more information.

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