Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (France 1949): Iron in the soul

Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (Such a Pretty Little Beach France 1949)

Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (Such a Pretty Little Beach France 1949) (91 mins)
Released as Riptide in USA in 1951

Screenplay by Jacques Sigurd
Directed by Yves Allegret
Cinematography by Henri Alekan
Original Music by Maurice Thiriet

Produced by Emile Darbon

Pierre . . . . . Gerard Philipe
Marthe . . . . . Madeleine Robinson
Landlady . . . . . Jane Marken
Mrs. Cullier . . . . . Mona Dol
Fred . . . . . Jean Servais
Commercial Traveler . . . . . Julian Carette
Garage Owner . . . . . Andre Valmy
Orphan Boy . . . . . Gabriel Gobin

Jacques Sigurd, one of the last to come to “scenario and dialogue,” teamed up with Yves Allégret. Together, they bequeathed the French cinema some of its blackest masterpieces: Dêdée D’Anvers, Manèges, Une Si Jolie Petite Plage, Les Miracles N’Ont Lieu Qu’une Fois, La Jeune Folle.

– Francois Truffaut

Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (Such a Pretty Little Beach France 1949)

A country priest on some banal errand cycles past a man walking in the rain to his doom, and then waves to a pair of village matrons, as relevant and as useful to the other rain-soaked pedestrian as the umbrellas held by the two women.

Savage irony, withering subversion, and desolation mark the rain-sodden angst of a young man’s end.

What is respectable is rotten, beauty masks filth; the melancholy song of a plaintive chanteuse from a record is a conspiracy of decadence and low greed. Eve is a woman of a certain age in mourning with a hunger for youthful sex and a penchant for cheap sentimentality. Lucifer is a lyricist and stool-pigeon in a grubby search for the jewels of a dead woman. Respectability is a travelling salesman who buys postcards of cemetery monuments for his son’s collection.

Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (Such a Pretty Little Beach France 1949)

Truth and beauty are not poetry, but the simple and unaffected concern of one troubled soul for another. A woman caressing the brow of a condemned man in a desolate shack on the beach of perdition.  The eve of the last day, two men work on a car, a murderer helping a mechanic, both strangers yet angelic comrades.

Solidarity meeting fate head-on.  A last desperate attempt by the killer to redeem the child he was before and still is – lost in the sordid machinations and cruel exploitation of bourgeois hypocrisy.

The apotheosis of poetic realism and film noir, not on the dark streets of Los Angeles, but in a decrepit consumptive ville on the French coast. This is the true trajectory of noir released from the shackles of the studio enterprise: treacherous mud and dull clouds leading to a desolate beach of lost youth. Death the only escape – sur une si jolie petite plage.

Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (Such a Pretty Little Beach France 1949)

14 thoughts on “Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (France 1949): Iron in the soul”

  1. “Savage irony, withering subversion, and desolation mark the rain-sodden angst of a young man’s end.”

    Your descriptive writing has really gone through the stratosphere as of late, and I can especially appeciate this piece because I absolutely LOVE this film! It was sent to me a few years ago by Allan, and it’s one I immediately hailed as a masterpiece of poetic realism, and a film of brooding atmosphere and a fatalistic melancholy. As always (as of late) you are saying so much in economical stanzas (as opposed to paragraphs!) to convey a film’s essence, bringing character and mise en scene, while discussing it’s thematic context.

    I found a Dickinsinian flavor in this film, and was amazed that the vital element of the plot was conveyed without monologues, asides or flashbacks. Monsieur Gertard phillipe gives a superlative performance here too, in Allegreat’s very best film, which follows in the glorious tradition of Vigo and Carne.


  2. Safe to say my sending you the film is more than vindicated by your love for it, but I already knew that was a given. Your love of the film as guaranteed as a “condemned by Cardinal Spellman” for Brigitte Bardot films in the 50s and 60s.


  3. Thanks for introducing to this novice the team of Jacques Sigurd and Yves Allegret! This film is a marvel, and I’m at a loss to comprehend how it has such a low profile.
    Your account is masterful. The film does remarkably offer a whole world of difference, and yet affinities, vis-a-vis the studio priming of American noirs. Antonioni, for one, must have seen it and been thrilled by its relentless physical expanses.
    The vignettes portraying leaden hopelessness and fragile integrity are in perfect pitch, in grand counterpoint to the virtuoso cinematography.


  4. How much did the work of Camus and Sartre influence this film in post-war France? And have you ever seen Philippe in 1954’s “The Red and The Black”? Brando had gone to Paris in 1951, and almost starred in it.


    1. Hi Barry.

      Director Allegre and scenarist Sigurd we’re both in the tradition of poetic realism, which in my view arose from the same historical and intellectual currents that nurtured both Camu and Sartre, rather than Existentialism having informed Allegre or Jigurd directly.

      No I haven’t seen The Red and the Black from 1954. I have it but have not yet been inclined to dig it out. The Brando connection is intriguing and may push me to take a look 🙂




  5. Tony, thank you for your kind response….I thought you might this find this interesting: After Marlon Brando had finished his stage commitment to “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Claude Autant-Lara wanted the young actor, who had not yet made a movie, for “The Red and the Black.” He paid for Brando’s transportation to Paris to meet with him. Although Brando loved the French capitol, plans for the movie were delayed, and the film was not made until 1954 with Gérard Philipe.

    Apparently, Brando was going to speak French phonetically in the film, but walked off the production due to the director’s right-wing political leanings.

    It would of been his film debut, instead of 1950’s “The Men”, which is amazing considering the nature of both Stendhal’s
    novel and the almost prophetic aspects it contained in regards to Brando’s deeply troubled and ultimately Julien Sorel-like trajectory through the highest echelons of American celebrity.


    1. Thanks Barry for this background, which is really interesting. The connections with the protagonist Sorel are indeed uncanny. Reminds of the tragic irony of Brando’s last role in The Score (2001).


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