René Clair Raymond Durgnat - Essay

Raymond Durgnat

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Les Fetes Galantes is certainly pleasant to look at, as bright uniforms rush, in those smoothly counterpointed columns of Clair's farces, across battlefields, up and down corridors round trenches, in and out of a picturesque castle, in every possible direction and dimension.

Yet that's all the movie is—bright and pretty. What makes it so thin is not, as Clair possibly hoped, the intensity with which he suggests the unreality or reality. Its unreality, alas, is primarily that which arises when a dried-up creator has recourse to stereotypes of the least interesting sort, and manipulates them through the most obvious situations. The film is never real enough for its unreality to be interesting. The slapstick is both dogmatic and incessant. It's preoccupied with details and all too often childish. The real comparison is with the slapstick classic where Harold Lloyd waded through the middle of a Mexican revolution; Clair's film just hasn't the hectic strength, amounting to delirium, of the American film. The parading (but hungry) army's quickening pursuit of a hen is a textbook specimen of slapstick technique—and just about as funny as a textbook specimen….

To the film's credit it never drags, it's an ok pastime if that's all you want. At least something sprightly is always happening. And after the slow temps-morts which have unfortunately become the characteristic rhythm of the '60s, its old-fashioned rapidity is a mellow pleasure.

Raymond Durgnat, "Reviews: 'Les fetes galantes'" (© copyright Raymond Durgnat 1967; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 13, No. 7, April, 1967, p. 10.