Le Million

Le Million is a buoyant fantasy that depends on a unique blend of music and romance, accomplished with great visual resourcefulness in the finest René Clair tradition. The story involves a search for a winning lottery ticket left in the pocket of a coat taken to the pawnshop. An impoverished painter leads the wild chase, followed by his creditors, his false friends and their girlfriends, a few crooks and, bringing up the rear, the cops. Many scenes are hysterically funny, others are quite moving, but the finale is in a class by itself, a burlesque of grand opera that makes the Marx Brothers look like Abbott and Costello. One of the first screen operettas, Le Million preserves the spirit of the original stage musical in a style that is entirely cinematic.

• Written by Clair, based on the musical comedy by Georges Berr, Guillemaud. Photographed by Georges Perinal. With René Lefèvre, Annabella, Louis Allibert, Paul Olivier. (80 mins, In French with English subtitles, 35mm, From BFI)

Followed by:
Zero for Conduct
Jean Vigo (France, 1933)

(Zéro de conduite). This is one of only two features made by Jean Vigo, who died at age twenty-nine, but who managed to create a personal cinema of ferocious visual invention. Told from the perspective of schoolchildren, whose innate unruliness is at odds with their tyrannical tutors, Vigo's vivid and uncompromising rendering of a boys' school is filled with adults in grotesque caricature who represent the stifling forces of socialization. Central to the student revolt is a poetically executed pillow fight in which the youthful jubilation is exquisitely matched by Vigo's liberated imagemaking, a surreal procession of floating feathers and anarchic upheaval. Its scathing account of French education got the film banned for almost fifteen years, and you can see why-Vigo never did anything by the book.-Steve Seid

• Written by Vigo. Photographed by Boris Kaufman. With Jean Dasté, Louis Lefebvre, Robert Le Flon, Delphin. (41 mins, In French with English subtitles, 35mm, From Janus/Criterion Collection)

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