Not too far from Canal Saint-Martin, in a district of Paris known for its affordable cafes, you will find Hotel Du Nord. Tonight Pierre (Jean-Pierre Aumont) and Renee (Annabella) have decided to rent a room in this friendly building and commit a suicide. But when the crucial moment arrives Pierre fails to do what he has promised. He leaves Renee in a puddle of blood and runs away.
Unconscious Renee is taken to a nearby hospital where she will soon recover. In the meantime Pierre is captured by the French police and thrown into one of the city's overcrowded jails. As Renee's wounds slowly begin to heal she attempts to reconnect with her past. Surprisingly Renee heads back to Hotel Du Nord looking for a job.
Directed by one of the great masters of French cinema Marcel Carne who filmed the legendary Les Enfants du Paradis a.k.a Children of the Paradise (1945) Hotel du Nord is very much a story about doomed love. Inspired by the award-winning book by Eugene Dabit (1928) whose parents actually owned Hotel du Nord Marcel Carne's film is a stunning recreation of a couple's inability to overcome adversity. When Pierre and Renee arrive at the hotel they have only one thing in mind-to preserve their love by committing a suicide.
As the story takes an unusual turn however the fates of the two main protagonists become entangled in a web of curious events. The fatalistic mood which Hotel du Nord reveals throughout the opening scenes is quickly replaced by something much more special shifting the story into an entirely different direction. Aside from the intriguing premise Hotel du Nord also boasts a marvelous cinematography. Helmed by Louis Nee (Les Nuits Moscovites a.k.a Moscow at Night) and Armand Thirard (the man responsible for the cinematography in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Salaire de la Peur a.k.a The Wages of Fear) Hotel du Nord hardly looks like a film that was shot 68 years ago.
Much has been said during the years about Marcel Carne's Hotel du Nord and the striking similarities you will find in it with the work of Jean Renoir-the atmospheric vistas capturing the hotel by the canal, the poetic beauty of the nearby park (watch carefully the scene where Louis Jouvet wanders through the park), Carne's camera often "freezing" the faces of his protagonists. This is indeed a true classic that transports its viewers back to the glory days of pre-war French cinema and a remarkable era of artistic creativity which appears to be forgotten.
How Does the DVD Look?
Hotel du Nord is yet to be released in North America and up until now the only two releases that were available on DVD were the French-produced MK2 disc and a Russian copy with a substantially better price tag. Both of those releases were non-English friendly. Fortunately enough UK's Soda Pictures have licensed MK2's print and what we have here is a direct port of the French version with added optional English subtitles. Hotel du Nord is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 revealing a fully restored image of excellent quality. Considering how old this film is the picture quality is indeed intimidating: blacks are steady and well-saturated, contrast is of excellent quality, even the print shows very little of the typical for such old works lack of stability. Furthermore, Hotel du Nord has been thoroughly cleaned up and you will not encounter any detrimental marks or scratches. All things considered the DVD presented by Soda Pictures appears to be one of the more impressive restoration works I have seen this year for a film so dated. PAL-encoded, Region 2.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original French mono track and optional English white subtitles the film sounds as impressive as it looks. Dialog is easy to follow and I could not hear any detrimental cracks or annoying pop-ups. The French team working on the restoration of Hotel du Nord must have spent a good amount of time working on this print and it clearly shows. In addition, the newly added English subtitles for this UK release are of excellent quality with the proper mid-size font European distribs seem to favor.
Aside from a stills gallery and the original theatrical trailer on this Soda Pictures release you will find an excellent introduction by film historian Paul Ryan who focuses on Marcel Carne's body of work and analyzes Hotel du Nord with an admirable precision. I liked the manner in which the film was introduced without giving up the finale.
Having Hotel du Nord in such a pristine condition is indeed a revelation. As I doubt it we will soon see a R1 release this British disc is by all means something you should add to your libraries. The film is a true classic and in my opinion one of Marcel Carne's best, right there, next to Le Quai des Brumes a.k.a Port of Shadows (1938), Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), and Therese Raquin (1953). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
This review was made possible with the kind assistance of Xploited Cinema.