Jacques Becker – Edward and Caroline
Out of all the titan directors of French cinema who operated between the 1940’s and the late 1950’s, Jacques Becker is perhaps the least well-known. He cut his teeth working as an assistant to Jean Renoir during many of his projects including the famed war movie, ‘La Grand Illusion’ before he became a director himself. Becker was a genre hopper, he made gangster movies, social dramas, and period pieces up until his last film, the prison effort ‘Le Trou’. Becker did this because he disliked the idea of pigeonholing himself to one genre when the French public was craving for more of the same. However, if there is one thing that is consistent across his work it is that he is interested in people, particularly young couples. This is where ‘Edward and Caroline’ comes in because, on the surface, it’s a comedy, a very subjective genre. It’s very thin on plot as expected and it runs just under an hour and a half. For Becker on the other hand, despite these limitations, this is a world that he is totally invested in and it isn’t hard to understand why.
The titular couple, Edward (Daniel Gélin) and Caroline (Anne Vernon) live together in a low-rent apartment but are opposites of each other. Edward is a virtuoso pianist and intellectual. Caroline is a jokey chatterbox who is not up to speed with Edward’s brainpower. Caroline’s Uncle Claude (Jean Galland) has offered Edward the chance to perform at his dinner party. Because of how unorganised both of them are, the couple have a good old farcical bickering here and there, Edward loses his waistcoat within the first ten minutes, Caroline uses his dictionaries as a stand to primp up her dress which deeply annoys him, and so their marriage is on the edge of falling through. Add in the fact that Claude’s son is also madly in love with Caroline and this night could end as a disastrous one for them.
This plot, give or take, has been done to death in romantic comedies from the 1930’s onwards, especially with how Becker and screenwriter, Annette Wademant, have characterised both Edward and Caroline. The male lead is a sophisticated individual whilst the female lead is not. This has been in the DNA of the leading characters of a romantic comedy since the dawn of time. But Becker and Wademant have sculpted each character with believability which is very noticeable between Gélin and Vernon.
Most of the time, they pointlessly argue over a variety of topics, the missing waistcoat, the dictionaries not being in the right order on the shelf etc. However Becker is smart enough not to make these arguments tiring for the audience as it sounds like an endless barrage on paper, it’s cute in the right way. To space these out, he also adds dimensions to each character that isn’t really seen that much from films of a similar ilk. For instance, Caroline is independent and strong-willed enough to defend herself despite seeming like a bit of a klutz. This comes to mind when Edward slaps her over ruining her dress, causing Caroline to lash out at him, not hesitating in the slightest for a divorce.
Aside from the very good chemistry between Gélin and Vernon, there isn’t much to say about ‘Edward and Caroline’. From a comedic perspective, it is light-hearted and breezy and when it gets to Claude’s mansion, Becker jacks up the satire of the upper-class boundaries. Most of the guests get bored very quickly of Edward’s elegant rush of piano chords, so he spices things up by playing a sunny tune that gets the guests excited, something that you would expect in a misty speakeasy or jazz club. This Studio Canal reissue comes with an interview with academic Ginette Vincendau, a regular contributor to the company who specialises in French cinema, and an excerpt of an interview with Becker himself. For its runtime and few special features, it is nice enough as a sort of distress movie, something to relax to after a long day at work. But for those who don’t like romantic comedies, this isn’t going to persuade you I’m afraid.