Remorques (1941)

One of Gremillon’s best-known works, this part sea action, part romance drama strikes a strong emotional chord with its performances and melodramatic flair.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,436

Dir. Jean Gremillon
1941 | France | Drama/Romance | 84 mins | 1.33:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some mature themes

Cast: Jean Gabin, Madeleine Renaud, Michele Morgan
Plot: For Andre and the other crew members of the Cyclone, existence is divided between the stormy seas and the safety of life at home with their wives. When Andre meets temptation in the form of the alluring Catherine during a risky rescue, he comes perilously close to betraying his wife of 10 years.
Source: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Remorques (also known as ‘Stormy Waters’) was one of Jean Gremillon’s best-known works, though having said that, he wasn’t as big a name as, say, Jean Renoir or Marcel Carne, both of whom made more identifiable films during the WWII period. 

Despite being rather sidelined in film history, any discourse on French cinema of the ’30s and ’40s would be incomplete without an appreciation for this nifty filmmaker. 

With Jean Gabin starring as Andre, a weary sea captain whose job is to rescue ships stuck in stormy waters, Gremillon has an actor equally at ease with navigating gigantic waves and matters of the heart. 

“When two people are quiet, they have a lot to say.”

Andre’s worrisome and sickly wife has been asking him to quit his dangerous job to spend time with her; at the same time, a seductive woman (who wants to escape her abusive husband) tempts Andre into an affair after being rescued. 

It all plays out effortlessly, and the narrative beats, while somewhat predictable, are well-paced.  For those interested in illusory action using back projection and models of ships, Remorques offers plenty of it in the perilous first act and executes it pretty well if I may add. 

The rest of the film is a showcase of strong melodramatic flair, none more so than in its epilogue, where the astute use of music, consequences of the plot and rich characterisation combine to elicit a swelling of emotions. 

Gremillon’s film may not be thematically deep, but he has successfully translated what it feels like to be emotionally ‘adrift at sea’.  

Grade: A-


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