Hôtel du Nord

Hôtel du Nord is a 1938 French drama film directed by Marcel Carné and starring Annabella.[1]

Hôtel du Nord
Hôtel du Nord.jpg
Film poster
Directed byMarcel Carné
Produced byJean Lévy-Strauss
Written byJean Aurenche
Eugène Dabit
Henri Jeanson
Louis Jouvet
CinematographyLouis Née
Armand Thirard
Edited byMarthe Gottie
René Le Hénaff
Release date
  • 19 December 1938 (1938-12-19)
Running time
95 minutes


The film follows the comings and goings at the Hôtel du Nord on the banks of the Canal St. Martin in Paris. The films begins with the gathering of many of the hotel's occupants around the dinner table for the first communion of Michèle, who lives in the hotel with her policeman father, Maltaverne. Madame Lecouvreur tells Michèle to bring a piece of cake upstairs to Raymonde (Arletty), who is talking with her boyfriend, Edmond (Louis Jouvet). A prostitute, Raymonde leaves Edmond, a photographer, who wants to develop his film. In the meantime, a young couple, Renée (Annabella) and Pierre (Jean-Pierre Aumont), enter the hotel and rent a room for the night.

Once alone, Renée and Pierre discuss their plan to kill themselves as they feel they have nothing left to live for. Pierre takes a small pistol, to shoot Renée first. Edmond hears a shot from his own nearby room. But Pierre has lost his resolve, and is unable to shoot himself. Edmond breaks into the room, and finding Pierre standing over Renée's body, motions him to flee through the open window.

Edmond lies to the police saying he had found the girl lying dead, alone in the room. Having stopped to share a drink with the communion celebrants downstairs, Raymonde is still in the hotel when the police arrive. An officer investigating the crime finding her papers not in order, hauls her away, to jail for four days.

Later in the week, Renée, who was only wounded, wakes up in the hospital and finds out that Pierre has surrendered to the police, confessing what he believes his guilt—the murder of his girlfriend. While Renée tries to tell the police they had a mutual pact to kill themselves, they do not believe her, and Pierre is brought to jail.

Once out of the hospital, Renée returns to the hotel where she is offered a job as maid and waitress until she gets herself back on her feet. Attractive, young, and famous because of her suicide attempt, Renée becomes popular with the men in the hotel and bar. Edmond, who was going to leave for the south of France with Raymonde, changes his plans when he sees that Renée has returned to the hotel. He falls in love with her; he declares this love, telling her how he used to be a crook, and even now is hiding from two men. Renée and Edmond make plans to leave Paris and begin anew, but Renée changes her mind at the last minute and returns to the hotel to wait for Pierre’s release from prison. Edmond follows Renée back to town to say goodbye. As the two meet, in the crowds in the street, she tips him off that the men pursuing him, await him, upstairs right now, in the hotel.

Edmond goes upstairs, opening the chamber door upon his foe; pulling the small pistol from his vest, he tosses it, lightly, onto the bed at the knees of his pursuer. So Edmond dies—but no one hears the shots from the little pistol this time, because, outside, the playful boys' firecrackers continue going off, amidst the commotion on the street, this Bastille Day.



After the controversy over the army deserter in Port of Shadows, Carné wanted to steer clear of anything with political implications for his next film. With Hotel du Nord, Carné reduced any politics to that of the romantic relationships. In 1938, Carné developed Eugène Dabit's novel Hotel du Nord into a film treatment. Dabit's book was popular in France and had won the 1929 Populist Prize. The author was the son of the owners of the real Hotel du Nord which, like the film, was located along the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris. Dabit was never able to see the film, having died of scarlet fever in 1936.

Carné initially thought of his friend Jacques Prévert to write the screenplay but he was busy with other projects. He then turned to Jean Aurenche and Henri Jeanson to write the script. They readily agreed and were excited by the idea of a modest Parisian hotel with a cast of colorful characters.[2] Carné and his roommate Maurice Bessy (editor of French movie magazine Cinémonde), went to the real Hôtel du Nord to soak up the atmosphere and get inspiration for how the film should look. Bessy later wrote an article about the visit that was published in the August, 1938 edition of Cinémonde.

For the leading role, Carne's production compay Sedif suggested a rising young actress with the innocent beauty and looks that was so popular in films of the time. Annabella's previous pictures had sold very well in the European market and she even had an offer to make a film in Hollywood.[2] She was paired with Jean-Pierre Aumont. They had previously played star-crossed lovers in Anatole Litvak's 1935 film L'Equipage.[3]

For the role of doomed pimp Edmond, Carne selected Louis Jourvet with whom he had previously directed in Drole de Drame(1935). For the vindictive Raymonde, Carne chose Arletty. Carne would go on to cast her in four of his subsequent films. Jourvet and Arletty are remembered as French cinema's most iconic pairings with their darkly comic bickering making up the most memorable moments of the film.[3]


Because of the political implications of the time (Hitler's recent invasion of Czechoslavakia), the filmmakers wanted to shoot quickly to avoid any delays that could be caused by the outbreak of war.

Carné and his producer Joseph Lucachevitch, thought that it would be too difficult to shoot the film in its real location on the Canal Saint-Martin. Instead, they reconstructed the hotel and canal at the Billancourt Studios. For the canal, they actually dug ditches and filled them with water on land outside the studio that was owned by the local cemetery. Lucachevitch invited journalists and French society to an event held at the set to promote the film in the summer of 1938.[2]

The film required elaborate set pieces, but the film's most elaborate sequence is the nighttime Bastille Day street celebration as it required over four hundred extras.[4]


The film was previewed on December 10, 1938, at the Cinema Marivaux in Paris. Critics applauded the film "sunny" and noted Carne's elaborate staging. Contemporary critics had a mixed response to the film. Time Out called it, "a very likeable film, but...Carné's 'poetic realism' seems a trifle thin and hesitant in this populist yarn about a sleazy Parisian hotel and its inhabitants."[5] Film critic Richard Roud called Hotel du Nord "delightful but unimportant."[6] Senses of Cinema noted that Hotel du Nord has been ignored by contemporary critics because it came between Carne's two masterpieces Port of Shadows and Le jour se lève.[6]


It is in this film that Arletty says the famous line, "Atmosphere! Atmosphere! Do I have an atmosphere hangover?" It became one of the most famous lines of French cinema history.[3]

“The words sound like they came out of a conjurer's hat. It is the same in all languages. I can't say it or hear it anymore. Besides, it no longer belongs to me. It belongs to the public and I know that in the mouths of many strangers, it is a pledge of their friendship. When I reread the novel by Eugène Dabit from which the film is based a little later, I saw that these words were not mentioned there once. It was a pure invention of Jeanson . A poet's find." - Arletty[7]

According to Marcel Achard: “Jeanson's dialogue is overwhelming. It is the best of all those he has done to date, and it is the most varied, the simplest, the most airy, the most brilliant of all the dialogues of cinema ”[8]

While Arletty and Marcel Achard refer to the screenwriter Henri Jeanson as the author of the famous line, in his film, Voyage through French Cinema (2016), Bertrand Tavernier says that it would be the screenwriter Jean Aurenche who would have slipped this line in response to the reproach that Marcel Carné addressed to him repeatedly for making films “which lack atmosphere.” However, as Jacques Lourcelles points out in his Dictionary of Cinema, this line highlights less the strength of the dialogues of the film than the genius of Arletty who, from a line which could have been rather heavy, succeeded in creating an unforgettable line which became a symbol of Parisian banter.

Marcel Carné, himself, writes in his book of memories, "La Vie à Belles Dents,“ "It must be said that Arletty was the soul of the film. Not only did she transcend certain lines, certain author's words that I hardly liked because of their outrageous style, like the famous “Atmosphere” to which her talent, her artistic magic, made her a success that we remember."[9]

Arletty said, “Nothing is out of fashion in this movie. Not a sentence. Not a word. This is not slang - slang goes out of fashion - it 's pictures. There is nothing to take away, nothing to put back. It is a piece "made", a score."[10]


L'Hôtel du Nord is an award-winning novel by Eugène Dabit, the first Prix du Roman Populiste, and is a loose collection of sentimental tales about simple people residing in a hotel. The novel begins with Monsieur and Madame Lecouvreur buying and transforming a rundown hotel. The film begins with the hotel already up and running and gives no real mention of how the hotel came about. So too, the novel ends with the Lecouvreur's reluctantly selling the hotel to a large company that plans to construct an office building on the site and the tenants must unhappily leave and separate. The film's ending is entirely modified and not only is the hotel not being demolished, but the film ends with the sense that this place and the people there are left standing in time untouched by the outside world. So too, the film focuses on criminals, prostitutes, and vagabonds, and develops the novel's sentimental, rather than political, themes.[4]


  1. ^ Gates, Anita. "New York Times: Hôtel du Nord". NY Times. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  2. ^ a b c "Le film - Hôtel du Nord". www.hoteldunord.org.
  3. ^ a b c Travers, James (28 August 2011). "Review of the film Hôtel du Nord (1938)". frenchfilms.org.
  4. ^ a b Turk, Edward Baron (1989). Child of Paradise: Marcel Carne and the Golden Age of French Cinema. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 129–131.
  5. ^ "Hôtel du Nord". Time Out London.
  6. ^ a b Fossen, Inge (11 December 2013). "Hôtel du Nord, Marcel Carné, film analysis".
  7. ^ Quote from Arletty at letter A on page 19 of Les Mots d'Arletty collected and presented by Claudine Brécourt-Villars, éditions de Fanval, Paris, 1988 ( ISBN 2869282028 )
  8. ^ "I Am as I Am," memories of Arletty established with the collaboration of Michel Souvais, Vertiges du Nord / Carrère editions, May 1987, Paris ( ISBN 2868044042 ) . Page 127: extract from Marcel Achard's quote published in the daily Paris-Soir when the film was released.
  9. ^ Marcel Carné, La Vie à belles dents, Éditions Jean-Pierre Olivier, Paris, 1975, page 137.
  10. ^ Quote from Arletty at letter H on page 63 of Les Mots d'Arletty collected and presented by Claudine Brécourt-Villars, éditions de Fanval, Paris, 1988 ( ISBN 2869282028 )

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