Friday, January 11, 2008

Reuse, Renew, Recycle: Home-Made Film Festivals (1)

Before I was given the opportunity to write a monthly column for the wonderful folks at the Register Mail, I had suggested a weekly mini-film-festival piece; but the editor felt it stepped on the toes of the "Rating Game." Before the dust settled and I started writing my present monthly column for the paper, I had assembled a few of these and posted them on another site. And in an effort to "simplify, simplify, simplify"--and to cannibalize anything I've ever made--hmm, maybe like Tarantino (see previous posting) I am beginning to eat my own tail; oops: one-a those "lest ye be judged" moments; gee thanks, God--I'm shutting down the old site, and moving those postings over here. So here's the first, "French Crime Wave."

note: The image layout was intended to convey the sense of a pile of posters; I'm not very good at this kind of thing, so please excuse the mess.

Part hommage, part parody, part self-conscious de-/re-construction, French gangster/crime films manage to combine hard-boiled cool with self-conscious "interrogations" of their Hollywood counterparts. After all, it was French critics Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier who first used the term film noir to describe American movies like The Maltese Falcon, with their brooding atmosphere and obsession with the "dynamism of violent death." So we should celebrate the following classics of French noir as true partners in crime.

Shoot the Piano Player (1962)
David Goodis' hardboiled novel, Down There, serves as the source for Francois Truffaut's second film. Almost a comedy, the movie still manages to capture the suffocating atmosphere of a noir in its (anti-)hero's self-reflexive glance over his shoulder at a past that inexorably catches up with him.

Touchez Pas au Grisbi/Don't Touch the Loot (1960)
Critic Philip Kemp aptly describes director Jacques Becker's visual style as "unstressed elegance." Add to that dapper, sleepy-eyed Jean Gabin, and the result is a world-weary, ultra-cool meditation on friendship, the passage of time, and the nuances of the double-cross.

Bob le Flambeur (1955)
Speaking of cool, Roger Duchesne as high-roller Bob embodies the kind of grace under fire that helps define the French noir hero. His closest American counterpart might be Robert Mitchum; but under Jean-Pierre Melville's direction we receive a surprisingly tender take on the no-regrets tough guy who literally gambles everything to protect his personal code.

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