Scarlet (L’envol) is something of an international mash-up. Italian director Pietro Marcello has very loosely adapted a novel (Scarlet Sails) by Soviet writer Alexander Grin into a story of French village life in the interbellum years.
As the film opens, Raphaël is returning home at the end of World War 1 when he discovers that he is a widower with an infant daughter to raise. We watch as Juliette advances through childhood into becoming a young woman. It is Juliette who is the central character of the story.
After learning the truth about his wife’s death, Raphaël turns away from the man who was responsible when he is in danger of drowning. When he survives, Raphaël becomes an outcast, losing his job and any prospects. He and Juliette continue to live in a small community of outcasts.
Juliette loves the woods, where she is not harassed by the locals. There she meets a woman (a witch?) who tells her that, one day, she will be carried away in red sails. When a pilot makes an emergency landing nearby, Juliette and he are attracted to one another, but Juliette is warned that he is an adventurer and not likely to hang around. Yet she holds out hope that the future that has been foreseen will come about.
There is a sense that this film is a fairy tale, complete with a beautiful princess, witches, prophecy, and a charming prince. The film builds on this concept by including a few songs that Juliette sings along the way. We can tell that although there are trials in Raphaël and Juliette’s life, that there will be a happy (if perhaps bittersweet) ending.
In some ways, the two men in Juliette’s life, her father and the pilot, represent the transition that is taking place during this time between wars. Raphaël is a master craftsman who works with his hands. His magnum opus is carving a figure head for a sailing ship. He seems tied to this place and this little community. He represents the old world. Jean, the pilot, is always on the move. The fact that he flies emphasizes the modernity he represents. And Juliette loves them both.
Juliette’s life is both idyllic and challenging. Because they have been ostracized by the town, she is often ridiculed by others. Yet, when she is in the natural world, she has a sense of belonging. And when Jean drops from the sky into her life, she begins to see the promise of a future that will be even more fulfilling. That could be why the film never really hints at the shadows gathering in the years at the films end. We know that another war is just around the corner, but this film doesn’t want to break the spell of newfound love with that reality.
Scarlet is in select theaters.
Photos courtesy of Kino Lorber.