People get forgotten for unforeseen reasons. Raymond Bernard was the star director of a fledgling French blockbuster industry that was smothered by shifting national circumstances. Criterion’s fourth edition of its Eclipse series, dedicated to the director, is a revealing glimpse at his aborted career and his curiously overlooked talent for precisely attuned epics, incorporating a wide variety of artistic and technological developments into populist narrative filmmaking. The uncertain economics of inter-war France couldn’t sustain Bernard’s large-scale films. As budgets were slashed small-scale poetic realism became more popular, a style he in some ways anticipated. But the die was cast and for decades after France’s film industry was largely defined economically and temperamentally by the modest and more personal. Bernard continued to work, but like his idol Griffith, his status was diminished, an observer on the sidelines of an industry that he helped create. Though his fate was undeserved we can at least take pleasure in these testaments to his faint prominence.
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