The Making of 'Mary Poppins
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“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one”.
Safe Conduct (2002)
Continental Films was a studio set up by the Nazi’s during its occupation of France in WWII. Though Joseph Goebbels reportedly recommended it only produce films that were “light, empty and possibly stupid”, filmmakers did enjoy some degree of artistic freedom (providing their finished product passed the German and Vichy censors). However, any request by the Germans was more of a demand, leading many in the French film community to come up with excuses as to why they were unavailable. Others chose work over poverty, content that they were working under the Germans, not for them. Dedicated to those who lived through these events, Safe Conduct covers both sides of the story, leading to a film with grand aspirations but an uneven tone.
Its opening resembles a French farce as screenwriter Jean Aurenche frantically empties a hotel lobby so that his lover, actress Suzanne Raymond, can discreetly meet him for a rendezvous. Their lovemaking is interrupted by a British bombing raid, at which point the film changes tack to follow assistant director Jean-Devaivre desperately searching for his family. Once the raid is over, he returns to the film set where he is confronted by the difficulties of making a film under such circumstances. Film stock is limited to the unused end of reels, materials for sets are seconded to make coffins and Jewish talent is forbidden to be employed. Which makes Aurenche’s efforts to avoid working for Continental all the more difficult, as his services are in high demand.
Based in part on Devaivre’s memoirs, Safe Conduct is at its best when it focuses on him. Devaivre’s participation in the Resistance and ongoing efforts to protect his family supplement the illuminating depiction of French film making during the Second World War. Regrettably, this is all too often interrupted by writer/director Bertrand Tavernier’s desire to include the WWII experiences of his frequent collaborator. While Aurenche's interactions with Continental chief Alfred Greven provide some context, his comical meanderings are not worth the intrusion.
Evidently Devaivre had similar misgivings. Just before the film’s release he sued Tavernier because he wanted his name bigger than Aurenche's in the credits.
as Jean Aurenche
as Jean-Paul Le Chanois
as Maurice Tourneur
Despite their fleeting interactions within this biopic, Jean-Devaivre and Jean Aurenche never actually met.