Carnival in Flanders (La Kermesse heroique)


1935. English subtitles. Black and white. 117 mins. New 35mm print

In 1610, the sleepy town of Boom in Spanish-occupied Flanders receives news of an impending visit by a Spanish nobleman and his troops. Fearing carnage and rape, the mayor decides to play dead in the hope that the fearful occupiers will respect the townspeople’s mourning and bypass Boom. But the mayor’s wife has an alternative solution. . . .
The enduring miracle of director Jacques Feyder’s supremely elegant costume entertainment is that it succeeds in balancing witty farce and intimate character comedy in grandiose settings (inspired by the Flemish masters) more suited to the ‘cast-of-thousands’ action spectacular. Lazare Meerson’s recreation of a 17th-century Flemish town is undoubtedly one of the splendours of motion-picture set design, but it never overwhelms the human landscape so wittily populated by Charles Spaak (original story) and Bernard Zimmer (screenplay and dialogue). For the Belgian born Feyder, Carnival in Flanders was the apotheosis of a richly varied career that took him to the studios of Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Hollywood. Feyder had the technical skill, cosmopolitan elegance and taste to make this one of the French cinema’s crown jewels. And in doing so, he offered his own wife, Françoise Rosay, the greatest role of her career as Cornelia, the mayor’s wily and humane spouse..

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