Hôtel du Nord is a film from the great French director Marcel Carné who, along with Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo, was one of key directors to come out of the Poetic Realism movement in French cinema in the ’30s. It’s a fascinating genre for a whole host of reasons: they are often crime films in some fashion (not always, however), with a deeply fatalistic worldview—especially Carné’s films—but with a sense of artificiality and an often deliberately studio-bound aesthetic.
This film came out right in between Carné’s Le Quai des Brumes and Le Jour Se Lève, which are both better films, but Hôtel du Nord has it’s virtues. It’s a relatively simple story about lovers who decide to carry out a suicide pact, but it goes haywire. The man, Pierre (Jean-Pierre Aumont), flees the scene and Renée (Annabella) survives without much damage. Pierre eventually surrenders, confesses and goes to jail, while Renée starts rebuilding her life, including a love life with the man who is connected to the events of that night.
If you like Carné’s work, it’s a must, although he deliberately downplayed some of the political implications of his films, which makes it lose something. It’s kind of like a proto-noir take on Grand Hotel. The performances are solid: all French actors you’ve seen in stuff before. The film has an extraordinary set-piece that takes place during Bastille Day near the film’s climax. The film actually became such a big hit at the time that the actual Hôtel du Nord was preserved and quickly declared a national monument that you can still visit today in Paris.
The disc from Arrow Academy includes an in-depth interview with Marcel Carné from 1972. The film historian Paul Ryan supplies an introduction, with an image gallery and original trailer rounding off the disc. Untypically, as far as I can tell there is no booklet for this release, not even in the first pressing.