Once upon a time, the legendary Meat Loaf said, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” No one is sure what he was refusing to do, whether it was some degrading kink act or just taking the missus to the Take That reunion concert. But it’s clear Manda, the male protagonist of Jacques Becker’s 1952 French classic Casque d’Or, now in a new 4K restoration from Studiocanal, doesn’t know the meaning of “won’t”.
Casque d’Or is set in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, during the Belle Époque period, when France flourished in its scientific, technical, and artistic innovations. It’s about a doomed romance between prostitute Marie (Simone Signoret) and ex-con Manda (Serge Reggiani). The title itself refers to Marie (or rather her exquisite blonde hair, as the translation is “Golden Helmet”), who is attached to small-time hoodlum Roland, a member of boss Felix Leca’s gang. Marie is bored of the abusive Roland, so she is intrigued when she meets Manda, recently released from prison.
Manda isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with Roland, and Marie decides she would rather be with him, but it turns out Felix also has designs on her, and before you can say “star-crossed lovers,” it all starts to go wrong for the pair. Manda ends up killing Roland, but it’s not that which upsets Felix; it’s that Marie doesn’t want to be with him. Men, eh?
Casque d’Or is an outstanding romantic drama with the undertones of a good crime thriller. It’s a film that does so much with looks, snatches, and glances here and there, and it is excellent in conveying that. That makes it easy to get caught up in the romance and the characters’ ordeal, particularly Marie. It doesn’t hurt that Signoret is mesmerising from the first moment she’s on screen, with that wicked coquettish smile and dangerously casual attitude. The audience instantly falls in love with her and is on her and Manda’s side almost immediately after seeing how Roland treats her. We’re with them right to the much-talked-about ending, indicative of the period in which the film is set.
Reggiani is great as Manda in a relatively subtle and quiet performance, often just using his amazingly expressive eyes. The whole cast is fantastic, and Becker uses Robert Lefebvre’s cinematography to significant effect, with several brilliant close-ups of the faces of the cast, specifically, as you can imagine, Signoret and Reggiani. There’s one moment where the pair are lying on a riverbank, and Signoret leans over to wake him up, which is shot in a wondrous soft focus that would make everyone in the world want to fall in love with her.
Studiocanal has brought Casque d’Or to 4K UHD with a new 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, which was scanned and fixed by the L’Immagine Ritrovita film restoration laboratory in Bologna earlier this year. The black and white film image is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and looks incredible, so wonderfully vivid and not lacking any of its texture. Alongside that is the original mono French audio track with English subtitles, and it’s perfectly clear and wonderfully balanced.
The disc itself is pretty light on extras, with two featurettes available. The first is about Signoret’s hairstyle itself, which was created by hairstylist Alex Archambault and how Signoret had taken the true story the film is based on to Becker to ask him to make it. The second is a more in-depth look at the making of the film and Becker’s direction, with input from several French authors and journalists. Lastly, there is a trailer for the film.
Casque d’Or is an incredible film full of passion and drama, but with the requisite coolness that would go on to help define the French New Wave. The new restoration is fantastic, and while the extras could be better, it’s a moot point with such a great film. Essential.