Jean Gabin is one of the most compelling on-screen presences in French cinema. Iconic in his portrayal of the doomed, the down-and-out, and down-on-their-luck gangsters, Gabin worked with some of major mid-century European filmmakers, including Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, Max Ophüls, and Jacques Becker.

Day Break

A key film in the French poetic realism movement of the 1930s, Daybreak reteams star Jean Gabin with director Marcel Carné after the earlier Port of Shadows (1938). A hard-boiled depiction of an ill-fated romance leading to madness and murder, Day Break anticipates Hollywood’s nihilistic film noir turn, and was banned in France, having been deemed too nihilistic. It was later remade in Hollywood as The Long Night (1947), starring Henry Fonda.

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The Grand Illusion

Released on the eve of the Second World War, Jean Renoir looked back to the ‘War to End all Wars’ with this tale of camaraderie between French officers interned in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Starring a grizzled Gabin and silent cinema great Erich von Stroheim, The Grand Illusion proved controversial throughout Europe upon its released due to its anti-war perspective, and ironic critique of class. It is now recognised as one of the most moving anti-war films. Renoir’s celebrated mobile camera is on full display in a film which has influenced directors ranging from Orson Welles to Wes Anderson.

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The Sicilian Clan

Effortlessly channelling late-60s Euro-crime cool, The Sicilian Clan teams Jean Gabin and his frequent co-star Lino Ventura with a smouldering Alain Delon. Gabin plays mob boss Vittoria, plotting an elaborate globe-trotting diamond heist. Delon is recently released from prison, and soon becomes involved with Vittorio’s daughter Jeanne, (Irina Demick), while Ventura is the cop on the gang’s tail. With a score by Ennio Morricone.

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