Recovered & Restored - Il Cinema Ritrovato's annual date with the masterpieces of film history, the best international restoration projects and rediscovered flicks - returns again. Included this year is Les Misérables, a 1930's series of a novel that every generation of filmmakers has taken on. In this version Cosette is portrayed by Josseline Gaël (1917 – 1995). This French actres started her career already as a child actor in the silent cinema. In front of the cameras she matured into a beautiful young woman and became one of the most sought-after actresses of the French cinema in the late 1930’s. But during the war she met her fate.
French postcard by Editions Chantal (EC), Paris, no. 1. Photo: Pathé Natan.
French postcard by Editions et publications Cinematographiques (EPC), no. 162.
Josseline Gaël was born Jeannine Augustine Jeanne Blanleuil in Paris in 1917. At the age of 3, she made her film debut in the silent short Un million dans une main d'enfant/A Million in the hand of a child (1921, Adrien Caillard). A few years later she appeared in a film serial by the legendary Louis Feuillade, Le stigmate/The Stigma (1925, Maurice Champreux, Louis Feuillade) featuring Jean Murat. She took ballet and drama classes, and when the sound film arrived, the then 13 year-old girl traveled to Berlin to appear in German and French language versions of Les amours de minuit/Mitternachtsliebe/The Lovers of Midnight (1930, Augusto Genina, Marc Allegret, Carl Froelich). In 1931, she played in Tout ça ne vaut pas l’amour/All this is not worth the love (1931, Jacques Tourneur) with Jean Gabin in one of his earliest film appearances. At 15, she was Julie in the film adaptation of Molière's play Monsieur de Pourceaugnac/Mr. de Pourceaugnac (1932, Gaston Ravel, Tony Lekain) with Armand Bernard. The same year she co-starred with Francoise Rosay and George Rigaud in Tambour battant/Briskly (1932, André Beucler, Arthur Robison). The next year, she played Cosette in the three-part adaptation of Victor Hugo's literary classic Les Misérables (1933, Raymond Bernard) starring Harry Baur as Jean Valjean. She was the heroine Aurore next to Robert Vidalin in the title role of Le Bossu/The Hunchback (1934, René Sti). Maturing in a beautiful woman, she played opposite popular stars as Henri Garat in the comedy Les femmes collantes/Sticky Women (1938, Pierre Caron), and Fernandel in the farce Barnabé/Barnaby (1938, Alexandre Esway). In a period of ten years, she played in about 40 films in all kind of film genres, and worked with some of the great French directors of the 1930’s, including Christian-Jaque, Victor Tourjansky, Jean Dréville, and Sacha Guitry.
French postcard. Photo: Studio Lorelle, Paris. Collection: Didier Hanson.
French postcard by E.C. (Édition Cinématographiques). Collection: Didier Hanson.
Terrific Horror Film
Josseline Gael had an affair with talented actor Jules Berry, 34 years her senior, and gave him a daughter Michèle. They made seven films together, including Face au destin/Facing Destiny (1939, Henri Fescourt) and L'an 40/The year 40 (1941, Fernand Rivers). The latter film premiered in Marseille in 1941, but the Vichy government banned it two days later and had all copies destroyed. None are known to have survived. During the occupation of France, Gaël made less films, but still appeared in nearly a dozen films including the terrific horror film La main du diable/The Devil's Hand (1942, Maurice Tourneur), with Pierre Fresnay. James Travers at Films de France: “Although the tale is familiar, the way in which it is filmed is strikingly original and the result is one of the most chilling and atmospheric French films of the 1940’s. La Main du diable is one of around thirty films made in France at the time of the Nazi occupation for the German-run film company Continental. In spite of German censorship and limited resources, most of these films have an outstanding quality, with many being regarded as masterpieces. It is surprising that a film which is as dark and disturbing as La Main du diable could have been made at this time under such circumstances.” Gaël was the partner of Tino Rossi in the musical melodrama L’île d’Amour/The Island of Love (1944, Maurice Cam). She combined these films with a successful stage career.
Belgian postcard by P.E. (Photo Édition), no. 209.
French postcard, no. 1. Collection: Didier Hanson.
During the war, Josseline Gaël also met her fate. In 1943, she fell in love with gangster and collaborator Antonin ‘Tony Saunier, who extorted money and killed for the French Gestapo. Saunier belonged to the notorious Bande Rouge (Red Gang) owing its name for the amount of blood on the hands of its members. Saunier and Gaël led a life of luxury until the Liberation in the summer of 1944. Both were arrested. When her last film Coup de tête/Head Butt (1944, René Le Hénaff) premiered in the cinemas, Gaël was already in prison. The shooting of the film in 1943 had already been a disaster since a part of the set had collapsed and seriously injured the male lead, Pierre Mingand. The accident effectively ended his career. In 1946, Tony Saunier and the other members of Bande Rouge were sentenced to death and shot in front of a firing squad. During Gaël’s sensational trial in 1946, Jules Berry, still legally her husband, testified for her and his moving plea probably avoided her death sentence. Gaël was condemned to National Degradation (Deprivation of one's civil rights as a French citizen) for life. She also received a ban that forbade her to work for several years, as well as a hefty fine. In her bio at CinéArtistes, Caroline Hanotte concludes that the then 27 years-old Josseline Gaël had realized perhaps a little too late that life is not a film. She retired in the country with her her daughter nearby her mother in the town of Angoulême, then in Mouthiers-sur-Boëme. She never returned to the film studios, and the industry and the public forgot her. In 1995, Josseline Gaël died in a nursing home in Saint-Michel d’Entraygues, not far from Angouleme, where no one was aware of her past. Michèle, her daughter with Jules Berry, has become a renowned art dealer.
French postcard by Editions P.I., no. 90. Photo: Studio Piaz.
French postcard by Editions Continental, no. 110/A. Photo: Continental Films.
Sources: Caroline Hanotte (CinéArtistes) (French), Christophe Grecque (IMDb), Hugo Bartoli (Find A Grave), James Travers (Films de France), and IMDb.