Le Ciel Est à Vous
Directed by Jean Grémillon
Tuesday, September 11, at Film Forum, part of "The French Old Wave"
Made during the Nazi occupation of France, Le Ciel Est à Vous (1944) was meant at least partially as propaganda for the country’s ruling Vichy government, but with its subtle screenplay by Charles Spaak and its observant direction by Jean Grémillon, the film often transcends that function. Charles Vanel and Madeleine Renaud play the married owners of a garage who slowly get caught up in the pleasure of flying airplanes. “Is it so hard to be brave when lots of people are watching?” Renaud asks of a glamorous aviatrix, after which Grémillon holds his camera on her steadily as she goes into a silent reverie and then wakes out of it with a start. Scene by scene, Grémillon builds a suggestive and ambiguous interior life for all of his characters, including the couple’s daughter, whose own musical dreams are neglected as her mother determines to beat an airplane distance record, and he takes pains to portray a believable family with relationships that ebb and flow realistically. Toward the end of the movie, however, Spaak’s screenplay veers into conventional uplift while the visuals suggest a more complex point of view; Le Ciel Est à Vous finally winds up as a film at war with itself. The title translates as The Sky Is Yours, but in its best scenes, Grémillon insists on answering that assertion with sensitive skepticism.