~The French Crime Wave/FILM FORUM
AUGUST 8 – SEPTEMBER 11, 2008
THE FRENCH CRIME WAVE – FILM NOIR & THRILLERS, 1937-2000
August 15, 2008 by JAN ALBERT
ALAIN DELON in PURPLE NOON, 1969, Rene Clement
ROMY SCHNEIDER and ALAIN DELON in LA PISCINE, 1969, Rene Clement
TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, 1954, Jacques Becker
CLASSE TOUS RISQUES, 1960, Claude Sautet
COUP DE TORCHON, 1981, Bertrand Tavernier
JEANNE MOREAU in ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS, 1957, Louis Malle
PLUNGE INTO AN UNDERWORLD OF FLICS AND FLAMBEURS at FILM FORUM’S FRENCH CRIME WAVE SERIES
What with the dollar floating in the gutter, this wasn’t the ete to jete to gay Parie, but you will feel like you’ve been there and back if you pass the dog days of summer at The Film Forum. A series of double features to die for, THE FRENCH CRIME WAVE, will entertain you without stop from now until September 11th.
If you’ve never seen heist classics like Touchez Pas Au Grisbi or Bob Le Flambeur (a tour of card games and casinos with a Parisian high roller), pronounced by Jim Hoberman as “the birth of cinematic cool”, you can enjoy them as a ‘two for 1 price treat’ – this very weekend.
I, myself, am psyched to finally catch up with films whose very titles have thrilled me for years; Pepe le Moko, Goupi Mains Rouges, Quai de Orfevres, The Sicilian Clan, and Georges Franju’s horror/thriller, Eyes Without a Face, as well as taking in little gems I’ve never heard of: the violent end of bad, bad sex kitten, (Brigitte Bardot), in La Veritie, Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Doulous (The Squealer) with Jean Paul Belmondo, Un Flic avec Catherine Denueve, and Jeanne Moreau in Elevator to the Gallows, 24-year-old director Louis Malle’s debut with a Miles Davis score!
These films will introduce you to a memorable bunch of pickpockets, burglars, mob molls, low lifes, and other lawbreakers, played by iconic French stars like Jean Gabin, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, former wrestler turned movie star, Lino Ventura, Jeanne Moreau, Louis Jouvet, and Sami Frey. Directors like Jacques Becker, Jean-Pierre Melville and Rene Clement may have found their inspiration in the work of American or British crime writers like Jim Thompson and Ruth Rendell, but this series of French films takes their dark little tales to heart and delivers the goods with a ‘what the hell’ style and cynicism that American movies rarely capture. The Grifters (w/ Annette Bening, Angelica Huston, and John Cusack), directed by Stephen Frears, is a rare exception that got it right, but U.S. remakes of flicks like Mississippi Mermaid, Breathless, or Diabolique (all the originals are included in this festival) completely miss the boat. Humphrey Bogart is about the only American film star I can think of who approximates the fatalistic attitude the French embody so convincingly.
Take 1949’s rarely screened Riptide (Un si jolie petite plage), showing Monday, August 19th. The film follows a seriously sensitive murderer, played by Gerard Philipe (they had faces then!), back to the scene of his sad childhood, an atmospheric beachside bar that lets rooms to lonely travelers.
The almost constant rain that falls from the first frame is a backdrop to the heavy duty symbolism of shutters banging in the swinging light of a single bulb and a group of little girls (led by a nun!), saying the rosary as they pass our hero on the street. The closely observed routine of the bar, the appearance of a sinister stranger, the furtive weekly coupling of a teenage orphan and the aging wife of a regular customer, which reminds the doomed visitor of the famous actress who led him astray as a youth, all combine with the world weary dialogue; you can’t change anything, to touch the heart of this filmgoer, on the way to the inescapable conclusion that life is ‘really a mess’.
Riptide ends with an incongruous scrawl before the credits reminding us gullible viewers that this is just a story and that in real life most orphans and wards of the state go on to lead fine lives and contribute to French culture in an exemplary manner!
There are other don’t miss masterpieces like Wages of Fear, Casque D’or (with the stunning Simone Signoret), and Class Tous Risques, where tough guy, Lino Ventura, shows superb screen chemistry with a very young Jean Paul Belmondo (in only his 2nd film role).
Speaking of Jean Paul and Jean Luc: you can see two Goddard films for the price of one admission – Pierrot le Fou (no fewer than two of my former flames counted this as their all time favorite film) and Mississippi Mermaid on August 22-23rd, and Breathless is paired with Band of Outsiders, on August 31 and Sept 1st.
Other treasures include the late great Bertrand Tavernier’s moody film noir adaptations, Coup de Torchon (August 25th), and The Clockmaker, with the always marvelously rumpled Philippe Noiret (August 26th).
Even the misfires are amusing, (Gangster Lino Ventura in Les Tontons Flingeurs does not adapt to comedy quite as readily as Robert DeNiro did in Analyse This.) Essentially, if you like your crime with a French accent, you cannot go wrong.
There is a great website for THE FRENCH CRIME WAVE, filled with in-depth background articles on the films and their stars, film trailers to watch online, and entertaining curiosities like a podcast from fashion maven, Agnes B, on her film education via Breathless, all at: