Melvin Van Peebles’s edgy, angsty, romantic first feature could never have been made in America. Unable to break into a segregated Hollywood, Van Peebles decamped to France, taught himself the language, and wrote a number of books in French, one of which, “La permission,” would become his stylistically innovative feature debut. Turner (Harry Baird), an African-American soldier stationed in France, is granted a promotion and a three-day leave from base by his casually racist commanding officer and heads to Paris, where he finds whirlwind romance with a white woman (Nicole Berger) — but what happens to their love when his furlough is over? Van Peebles creates an exploration of the psychology of an interracial relationship as well as a commentary on France’s contradictory attitudes about race that is playful, sarcastic, and stingingly subversive by turns, and that laid the foundation for the scorched-earth cinematic revolution he would unleash just a few years later with “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” The New Yorker’s Richard Brody writes: “(The film) looks starkly, intimately, and imaginatively at the double life of a black soldier in the U.S. Army. All the more remarkably, it’s a French film: Van Peebles made it while living in Paris, and although its protagonist is American and much of the film is in English, the movie reflects the stylistic variety and the freewheeling innovation of the French New Wave.”
With an introduction and post-film discussion by Diane Carson, professor emerita of film at St. Louis Community College at Meramec and film critic for KDHX (88.1 FM).