Since Julien Duvivier is both author and director of "The Sinners" (Au Royaume des Cieux) there can be no question as to who may be responsible for the virtues and the faults of the new French drama at the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse. M. Duvivier hast a lively approach to the cinema at his best and there are instances of his brilliance and power as a director in "The Sinners," but there also is an elliptical quality about several sequences which tends to cloud the picture's continuity. Perhaps some scenes were shortened beyond what M. Duvivier had intended to accommodate the censors for there are occasional abrupt changes in the film.
Against the background of a correctional institution for girls in France, the director plays out a harsh story of human misery, of the corrupting atmosphere in which the girls pay for their offenses to society—crimes that range from murder to prostitution—and their violent rebellion against a martinet directress. Into this dark tapestry of depravity and disillusionment M. Duvivier has woven a luminous romance that burns brightly in the memory of a newly arrived inmate and kindles sympathy and respect in the hardened hearts of the others.
As the pathetic girl who is separated from her boyfriend by an unfortunate circumstance, the director was very fortunate in his choice of Monique Melinand. For she has a radiant quality of innocence and without ever being obtrusive gives to her characterization as Maria Lambert a sense of inherent decency. Serge Reggiani is clean cut and likeable as the sweetheart who boldly attempts to arrange Maria's escape. Suzy Prim gives a commendable performance as the austere head of the reform school who reveals her pathological hatred of men when she discovers through an informer that the girls plan to help Maria to escape.
Although it is unsatisfactory in many ways, "The Sinners" has a lot more vitality than most French films that have arrived here in recent months. Duvivier's handling of the riot sequences throb with excitement as the girls run screaming down the corridors, break open bottles of wine they find in the storeroom and march ominously on the room in which the directress has barricaded herself. On the other hand, Duvivier has not made the most out of the sequences where a rain swollen river leaps over its banks and floods the village, trapping a church full of people on Christmas morning.
Perhaps the trouble with "The Sinners" is that Duvivier, as author and director, was so close to the drama that he could not see the forest from the trees, if you'll pardon the cliché. In any event, the picture is not as neat and clean and strong an example of craftsmanship as could be expected from a man of Duvivier's talent.
© New York Times, 11/11/1950
Source : nytimes.com