The Night Heaven Fell (Les Bijoutiers du clair de lune) [DVD]
Screenplay : Roger Vadim and Jacques Rémy (based on the novel The Moonlight Jewelers by Albert Vidalie)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1958
Stars : Brigitte Bardot (Ursula), Alida Valli (Aunt Florentine), Stephen Boyd (Lamberto), Pepe Nieto (Count Ribera), Maruchi Fresno (Conchita), Cantinflas (Alfonso), José Marco Davó (Police Chief)
Director Roger Vadim and his wife-star Brigitte Bardot first collaborated in 1956 on ... And God Created Woman, which was also Vadim's directorial debut after years of cowriting scripts for lesser Bardot films. Although not a great hit in its native France, the film had an enormous impact on how "foreign films" and "art films" were perceived in the United States. The film's exhilarating mixture of Bardot's rebellious, untamable sexuality and the fleeting glimpses of naked female skin made it a major hit in the U.S. to the tune of some $4 million, a virtually unheard-of gross for an import.
American audiences were probably not expecting what Vadim and Bardot chose to do for their encore in 1958, The Night Heaven Fell (Les Bijoutiers du clair de lune). It would gratify those who came for the forbidden elements that had become synonymous with foreign and art films in the late 1950s, most notably a momentary, but full, view of Bardot's naked breasts. The film itself had little in common with the tone of ... And God Created Woman, and it was certainly a complete departure from Bardot's earlier work, which consisted primarily of amusing, but vapid French riffs on the screwball comedy.
The Night Heaven Fell is a moody, sometimes gritty melodrama about lovers on the run after a murder. Although shot in gorgeous Technicolor and widescreen CinemaScope, the film is dark and psychologically dense. Rather than portraying a character of wild sexual freedom, Bardot plays Ursula, a virginal young woman just out of a convent who goes to vacation in rural Spain with her aunt and uncle. Ursula immediately falls in love with a handsome young man named Lamberto (Stephen Boyd) who has a grudge against Ursula's licentious uncle, Count Ribera (Pepe Nieto),whom Lamberto blames for his sister's suicide. Ursula's plight is greatly complicated by the fact that not only is Ursula's sexually repressed Aunt Florentine (Alida Valli) also infatuated with Lamberto, but Lamberto ends up killing her uncle.
The sexual and emotional entanglements among Ursual, Lamberto, and her aunt and uncle are the stuff of classic Freudian melodrama, but Vadim is not content to stop there. Rather, he pushes the story further by turning it into a young-lovers-on-the-run parable, with Lamberto and Ursula hiding out in small villages and eventually finding themselves stranded in the desert, living in a cave and nearing starvation. Here the psychodramatics are only intensified, as Ursula and Lamberto's passion for one another is put to the ultimate test and their very survival hangs in the balance--it's as if Douglas Sirk had directed a version of Bonnie and Clyde in French.
The Night Heaven Fell has been compared to film noir, with its emphasis on the crooked wealthy elite, its intense use of naturalistic violence, the centrality of murder and escape from the law, and the overall dark tone and pessimistic outlook on human nature. Yet, no typical film noir could contain the fervor of the romance between Ursula and Lamberto, which is positioned as something pure and natural, in stark opposition to the violence and criminality surrounding them. In some ways, The Night Heaven Fell is a deeply optimistic film, even if it ends on an appropriately dark note, suggesting that love may be pure and strong, but that doesn't mean outside forces won't eventually prevail.
The Night Heaven Fell was Vadim's third film as a director, and it demonstrates his continual emergence as a notable filmmaker, something that would continue throughout the 1960s and early 1970s before his steady decline thereafter. Vadim is especially adept at using the rugged Spanish landscape in his compositions. He uses numerous long shots in which craggy cliffs and large dunes seem to swallow up his characters, an apt visual metaphor to convey the inescapable situation in which they're mired.
In the leading role as Ursula, Brigitte Bardot makes a significant step forward in her acting. Rather than being positioned primarily as an object of male desire, she plays a complicated woman with conflicting desires and a naivete that is both her saving grace and the cause of her eventual downfall. Bardot spends a great deal of the film emoting in various ways, and she pulls it off fairly well. Like all melodrama, the story is pushed to the furthest extremes of emotional plausibility, but we accept it because it is all part of the genre. The material Vadim and Bardot are working with is tricky, but they treat it in the right manner--slightly over the top, but not so much so that we lose sympathy for the characters.
|The Night Heaven Fell DVD|
|Audio||Dolby 2.0 monaural|
|Supplements|| Brigitte Bardot filmography |
Original theatrical trailer
Trailers for ... And God Created Woman and Plucking the Daisy
|Distributor||Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 25, 2001|
|Along with Plucking the Daisy another Bardot film, The Night Heaven Fell is the first DVD release from Home Vision Entertainment, which up until now has dealt only with VHS except for their partnership with The Criterion Collection. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), the transfer of The Night Heaven Fell is good, but nowhere close to great. The image is crisp and finely detailed (one of the great benefits of CinemaScope), but the print used for the transfer looks to have aged quite a bit in the last 43 years. Color saturation is generally good, although certain scenes looks a bit washed out and faded. Marks, scratches, and blemishes are quite frequent, with a few large marks being very visible.|
|The two-channel Dolby monaural soundtrack is clean and clear. Expectedly limited in depth and fidelity, it is generally free of any hiss or distortion. There are times when the volume tends to waver, and in one scene several lines of Bardot's dialogue drop out completely, although we still know what she is saying through the subtitles.|
|The supplements are limited to the original theatrical trailer for The Night Heaven Fell and trailers for two other Bardot films from the same period, 1956's sexy screwball comedy Plucking the Daisy (which is also available on DVD From Home Vision) and 1956's ... And God Created Woman (which is available on DVD from The Criterion Collection). Also included is a comprehensive filmography of Brigitte Bardot.|
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick