Carnett: Seeing the future on the screen

I'm not normally a prescient sort of fellow.

ESP isn't hardwired into my DNA.

But, the other night I felt eerily and unmistakably clairvoyant. I knew what was going to happen before it happened in the lives of others.

No, I didn't see dead people. What I did see, however, was earthshaking in its significance. I could look into the eyes of individuals knowing what would befall them over the coming months and years.

I was Carnac (err, Carnett) the Magnificent, and my on-target predictions were chilling.

Here's how it went:

As I've made known in this space before, I'm a passionate devotee of classic and foreign films. My go-to cable channel is the ubiquitous (in my household!) Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

The other night I watched the 1939 French film "Le Jour se Leve" ("Daybreak"). The film tells the story of a young factory worker who loses his woman to a vicious schemer.

The work is touted as a classic example of the "poetic realism" film genre.

But my fascination with the flick had nothing to do with its plotline, rising action or turning point. In fact, I paid scant attention to any literary device.

What I chose to focus on were the lives and emotions of the actors themselves. I looked into their faces knowing that their lives were — as my sainted Oklahoma auntie used to say — "fixin' to change!"

Presumably, the actors were living off-camera existences in places like Paris, Deauville and Marseilles. And those lives, I noted to myself as I watched the film, would soon be changing drastically, and not for the better. Yet, their faces showed no hint of anticipation.

Work on the movie set — like every other sector of the French economy — apparently went forward in 1939 even as the clouds of war built along the Franco-German frontier. The crazed Nazi leader with the postage stamp mustache and bad comb over was making outrageous rants before huge crowds in places like Nuremberg, Munich and Berlin. His words would soon directly affect the lives of everyone working on the film — and living on the planet.

The film was released in June 1939, three months before the German military juggernaut invaded, smashed and subjugated Poland. Eight months later, in May of 1940, Germany turned its rapacious cruelty on France. German forces took Paris in June, and the nation was divided into a north and west zone, occupied by the Nazis, and a southern zone run by the collaborationist Vichy regime.

On June 23, 1940, Hitler made a triumphal visit to Paris. He surveyed notable sites in the French capital, and stood for a photo — as I did decades later — before the Eiffel Tower. To his mind, Germany's World War I humiliation had been vindicated.

That same year, the Vichy government banned "Le Jour se Leve" in France. The government claimed the film was demoralizing and had contributed to the French defeat by the Nazis.

The male star of "Le Jour se Leve" — Jean Gabin — came to the U.S. after the Germans occupied his country. He joined Gen. Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces and became a war hero, earning the Medaille militaire and a Croix de guerre for valor while fighting with the Allies in North Africa.

Following D-Day, Gabin was part of the military contingent that liberated Paris.

At the end of the war, in 1945, the female star of the film — Arletty — was imprisoned for a time for her liaison after the 1940 fall of Paris with a German Luftwaffe officer.

Her film career was effectively stunted, but, in an ironic twist of fate, one of her final screen appearances came in 1962 when she played an elderly Frenchwoman in a cameo role in "The Longest Day."

Like Thor on high, I smugly knew all ultimate outcomes the other night as I watched the thespians blithely deliver lines and act out their roles at the cusp of World War II.

Which led me to ponder: Is there some cinema devotee today observing me utter my lines, fully knowing my future?

I wonder.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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