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Lumiere d’ete

In his relatively short career as a film director, Jean Gremillon (whose Pattes Blanches is pictured) passed in and out of fashion more than once. Trained as a composer and violinist, he was introduced to cinema as an accompanist for silent films, and his musical sense of structure survived in his work as a director. After helming several popular silents, he made his first talkie, 1930’s La Petite Lise, a commercial disaster that supporters say was simply ahead of its time. After that, Gremillon left France; he had his next major hit with a French-language film shot in Berlin in 1937, Gueule d’Amour. Still working in Germany, the director then made L’Etrange Monsieur Victor (at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25), a criminal-mastermind thriller whose theme suggests the work of such German directors as Fritz Lang: Distinctive French character-role performer Raimu—”the greatest actor who ever lived,” according to Orson Welles—plays a seemingly bourgeois shopkeeper with a secret life as the ruthless leader of a burglary ring. Gremillon returned home a success again, but he arrived without enough time to make another film before German tanks followed him to Paris. Working in the Vichy-controlled part of France, Gremillon did manage to direct three films during the war, including Lumiere d’ete (at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26). Set in a remote mountain region, the story pits working-class lovers against a decadent, manipulative aristocracy—easily seen as a stand-in for Vichy authorities or the Nazis, which is why the film was suppressed at the time. The films screen at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 842-6799. (Mark Jenkins)