The Pearls of the Crown | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Pearls of the Crown 

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Henry II dies in a quizzical jump cut, Arletty's voice is run backward to suggest the speech of an Abyssinian snake princess, and writer-director Sacha Guitry plays several parts (including Francis I and himself telling the film's story to his wife). It's often been said that you have to know French to fully appreciate Guitry's cleverness and genius (much as you have to know English to get the full measure of Preston Sturges). But even if only those who speak French will catch a pun capping Jacqueline Delubac's resisting Raimu's advances by speaking exclusively in adverbs, the sheer personality, eccentricity, and stylistic energy of this 1937 film transcends linguistic barriers. A tale about the fate of seven perfect pearls, four of them in the English crown, which begins in the 16th century and proceeds with leaps and bounds into the 20th, this movie periodically shifts to English or Italian to give its wit and formal play more international cachet. Guitry's habit of hovering over his characters, evocative at times of Orson Welles's procedures in The Fountain of Youth and F for Fake, is almost as pronounced here as in his other 30s masterpiece, Le roman d'un tricheur. If you've never encountered Guitry, this is a plausible place to start. The all-star cast also includes Marcel Dalio, Claude Dauphin, and Jean-Louis Barrault. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, September 18, 6:00, and Saturday and Sunday, September 19 and 20, 2:00, 443-3737)

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