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Louis Valray was born in 1896 and died in 1972. Beyond that, little is known of the man except what we can glean from his two marvelous feature films, La belle de nuit (1934) and Escale (aka Thirteen Days of Love, 1935), works that combine the visual invention of Jean Vigo and the humanism of Marcel Pagnol. Both movies, each clocking in at a neat 84 minutes, display a confident and expressive style that seems to take particular inspiration exploring the differences between the soulful rank and file of Marseilles and their more coldly urbane Parisian counterparts. Valray was, above all, a personal filmmaker and these two features evidence an enormous compassion for women, the underprivileged, and society’s outcasts. It seems likely that Valray considered himself a real outsider too, as there was very little printed about him in France when his movies were originally released to disappointing box office returns. Thanks to the heroic film preservation efforts of Serge Bromberg and his distribution company Lobster Films, Escale and La belle de nuit have been made available for the first time in nearly 80 years. The films are also being championed by some of America’s finest film critics like Imogen Sara Smith, who writes in Film Comment that “stylistically the films are startlingly original and rather odd, blending exhilaratingly fresh location shooting, lyrical images, heavy-handed melodrama, and idiosyncratic composition and editing.” Now you can discover these Louis Valray masterpieces for yourself in this special double feature program that allows you to see both Escale and La belle de nuit for one ticket price. (JH)

In Louis Valray’s accomplished debut feature, Paris playwright Claude (Aimé Clariond) is reunited with old war buddy Jean (Jacques Dumesnil). The friendship is betrayed when wealthy playboy Jean seduces Claude’s long-time mistress, the actress Maryse (Véra Korène). Despondent, Claude retreats south to Marseilles where he encounters Maïthé (also played by Korène), a man-hating prostitute with a remarkable resemblance to Maryse. Teamed with this new accomplice, the writer then hatches an elaborate plan for revenge on his lover and pal, a plan that spins off in unexpected directions. La belle de nuit is at its most visually expressive during its tour of the seaside city’s bordellos and other underworld locations and Valray offers up a rich study in contrasts between the stiffly privileged northerners and the far more sympathetic and earthy working class of Marseilles. An elegantly plotted work containing numerous cinematic grace notes, La belle de nuit should have announced the arrival of a major moviemaking talent, but Valray only completed one more feature before vanishing into obscurity. (JH)

  • Year
  • Runtime
    84 minutes
  • Language
  • Country
  • Director
    Louis Valray
  • Screenwriter
    Arnold Lipp, Pierre Wolff
  • Cast
    Aimé Clariond, Véra Korene, Paul Bernard, Nicole Martel, Jacques Dumesnil
  • Cinematographer
    Marc Bujard, Georges-Lucas Kosta
  • Music
    Hans May