I pulled out my trusty Harrap’s French dictionary to look up “gribiche,” but I could not find a definition. A different source mentioned a French sauce called gribiche that consists of oil, egg yolks, mustard, capers and tarragon. It’s served with boiled chicken, fish and calf’s head. I didn’t make it yet, and I still could not get an explanation the title of a 1926 film called “Gribiche,” which screened at the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF).
The movie, directed by Jacques Feyder, tells the story of a poor boy with a loving mother who gets adopted by a rich American woman to ensure his education. Jean Forrest plays the title character with a charming and funny performance. The movie begins with Antoine “Gribiche” Belot (Forrest) living in his modest apartment with his loving mother Anna Belot (Cécile Guyon). Later, while walking through a department store, Antoine notices that woman drops her wallet while paying for a purchase. He retrieves the wallet from the floor, finds her and returns it just before she enters her chauffeured car. The woman, Edith Maranet (Françoise Rosay), offers the boy a reward, which he promptly refuses.
The film explores the theme of the value of charity, which is evident in the subsequent scenes when we see the altruistic Edith performing her life’s work of helping the poor receive proper educations. Soon, she arrives at the Belot household with a proposition for Anna; Edith wants to adopt Gribiche, let him live in her mansion, and provide him with a first-class education. Anna leaves the decision up to the boy, which provides the only sad scenes in this vibrant fish-out-of-water comedy. The boy enters Edith’s household and endures her regimental and strenuous parenting style. Edith, with clock-like efficiency, dictates every second of Gribiche’s life. He endures a parade of tutors and personal servants dedicated to stamping out all his fun.
The pressure of fulfilling Edith’s expectations eventually gets so high that Gribiche misbehaves in some very harmless ways, but Edith’s stodgy servants continue to thwart his desire to have fun. Poor Gribiche is left with a difficult decision since he doesn’t want to disappoint Edith or his mother. To complicate matters, his mother has remarried in Gribiche’s absence and our boy doesn’t know if he can return to this mother. Besides Jean Forrest’s excellent performance, Françoise Rosay does a good job playing Edith. She never becomes an unlikable character, despite her rigid rules and regulations.
The 2013 SFSFF showing at the Castro Theater on July 20 proved to be a special event, since the festival and Cinemateque Française premiered the new restoration at that time. Gribiche is a funny and interesting film that I’m looking forward to seeing again.