Region 2 (UK) Edition - Reviewed by Mark Frost

Director Jacques Feyder

StarringAndré Alerme, Françoise Rosay, Jean Murat, Micheline Cheirel


The mayor (André Alerme) and his cohorts in the Flemish town of Boom in 1616, squabble over the minor details of a portrait they are sitting for, when news reaches them that Spanish invaders are closing in with a view to occupy the town.

The panicking Mayor hatches a plot to send Boom into mourning with news of his own death, in the hope that the Spanish invaders will take pity on the grief-stricken townspeople and move on.

The Mayor’s Wife, Madame Burgomaster (Françoise Rosay) is sent along with the rest of the womenfolk to persuade the Army chief (Jean Murat) to take pity, but the Spanish insist that they will stay for just one night.

With the male leaders of Boom keeping a low profile, the downtrodden women make the most of the attention and seize the chance for a night of excitement.


Released in 1935, this French comedy was very well received, winning the Grand Prix du Cinema Francais, as well as the ‘Best Foreign Film Award’ by the New York Film Critics.

As the opening credits inform you, this film is heavily indebted to the Flemish painters of the period it is set in, with director Jacques Feyder intention to ‘popularise and spread throughout the world the prestigious art of the great painters of my native country’. He certainly succeeds in this, as the film is a constant feast for the eyes - Lazare Meerson’s production design triumphant with the recreation of a 17th century Flemish town in all its minuscule detail, as if it had just jumped from the canvas of Brueghel’s The Fight between the Carnival and Lent.

At first the film seems to be an indictment of small town mentality – the men are couped up in impotent fear, while the women invent unrealistic plans and waddle along as a gaggle of flustered geese aimlessly do the same in front of them. But the Womenfolk quickly take the initiative and make the most of the exciting new visitors. They shamelessly indulge in copious amounts of food, sex and alcohol, while their husbands helplessly look on.

As the problems of hiding the Mayor’s secret escalate, the film becomes more joyously farcical with each scene. Farce can be incredibly painful, but La Kermesse Héroïque handles the comedic situations with finesse – with many laugh-out-loud moments. The characters are great value – Louis Jouvet’s immoral, bribe-taking Chaplain the standout. The theme here is every man (or woman) for himself, as the population of the town attempt to outdo the occupying mercenaries in selfishness and looking after number one.

The film attracted controversy on its release, as many critics saw parallels between the accommodating townsfolk and Flemish collaborators during the Germans' occupation of the area during World War I.

But in retrospect the events that followed this film - France’s Vichy government welcoming an armistice with invading German forces – leave you with a bad taste in the mouth and the feeling you are watching a piece of pro-collaboration propaganda.


On La Kermesse Héroïque’s cinema re-release in June 2004, reports stated that this was a restored version. First impressions of the disc seem to contradict this, as there is extensive print damage evident. But it must be remembered that this film was made seven decades ago, and, although soft, the picture is still very agreeable. The film is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 1.37:1. Blacks are fairly strong and the contrast and definition are impressive in places. The average bit rate is 4.91Mb/s, across a single layer.

There are no such concerns with ravages of time as far as the sound is concerned – the mono track  provided (at 192 kbps) is superb. Dialogue is clean at all times, with hardly a trace of hiss or distortion. The BFI deserves praise for their work on the film’s audio. Whispers in corridors and raucous drunken celebrations display the same level of clarity throughout.

The animated menus are striking - scenes from the film play behind a minimal layout aping BFI’s packaging - the design is respectful and pleasing to the eye.


A film of this importance deserves to have a multitude of essays, historian commentaries, and retrospective documentaries to explain its position in cinema history and help the audience understand the undercurrents and hidden agendas at work. Unfortunately, all we get is a Director’s biography which, whilst concise, is short on details specific to this film.


Many see La Kermesse Héroïque as Jacqes Feyder’s masterpiece. A marvelously executed blend of farce and bawdy comedy, to a backdrop of stunning set design and ingenious interaction with famous paintings of the time (Brueghel’s Two Chained Monkeys literally coming alive to serve as an important plot device at one point).

History has taught us that something altogether more sinister seemed to be on Feyder’s mind, but don’t let that spoil your enjoyment of what is a gleefully immoral comedy from the golden age of French cinema, presented on an above-average disc from BFI.












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