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Escale (Thirteen Days of Love). 1935. Frances. Directed by Louis Valray. Screenplay by Louis Valray, Anne Valray. With Colette Darfeuil, Samson Fainsilber, Serge Arola. In French; English subtitles. 84 min.
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An officer of a passenger ship falls in love with the mistress of a Marseille racketeer, with unexpected results. Louis Valray’s second and final feature film, written with his wife, Anne Valray, is as free-spirited as his first, La belle de nuit, owing little or nothing to any established school of French cinema, mixing the lyrical (as the lovers enjoy a few days of romance on a tiny island) and stark realism (unblinking observations of the Marseille underworld and its seemingly authentic denizens).
Although he went unbilled on the original posters, the film’s real star is perhaps Féral Benga, a gender-fluid Senegalese dancer who starred alongside Josephine Baker in the Folies Bergère and later became a gay icon, first in Paris (Jean Cocteau cast him as a guardian angel in The Blood of a Poet) and then in New York, where he posed for Harlem Renaissance artists including Richmond Barthé and James A. Porter. A study of Benga painted by Pavel Tchelitchew was in the collection of Lincoln Kirstein. Appearing as the hero’s worshipful manservant, Benga brings an added dimension of ambiguity to the dreamlike proceedings.
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