Classic French Film Noir #5

Tirez Sur La Pianiste (1960)

Tirez Sur La Pianiste (1960) and better known as Shoot the Piano Player, is surefire French film noir, from none other than Francois Truffaut.

Francois Truffaut was a film critic for the magazine Cahiers du cinéma. 

After his debut, Les Quatre Cents Coups, which was a coming of age tale, Truffaut took a completely different subject matter for this second feature. 

The source novel is Down There, a US pulp fiction production by David Goodis. Its a tale of crime set in seedy locations with a graceless kind of plot, but the way the filmmakers use this source makes Tirez Sur Le Pianiste the film it is.

Charles Aznavour is the passive, indifferent anti-hero, ineffective in either solving or preventing crime. The heart of the film goes back to his character Charlie's past where he was a classical concert pianist. A vignette explains to us why Charlie is in the pits now. 

Nicole Berger as Thérèse Saroyan, Charlie's wife owns this part of the film. This section also features a beautiful sequence where the camera chooses to follow a female violinist from the door of an apartment and out into the courtyard. Why? There is no answer.
Tirez Sur La Pianiste is as laidback as Charlie himself most of the time. But it is not bereft of delights, and captures all sorts of ambience, in the name of noir.


Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954)

Also known as "Honour Among Thieves" and "Gangsters in Pyjamas" Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954) is one of the great  pleasures of French film noir cinema. 

If you're looking for a solid French film nour to recommend to your colleagues, this will be your best bet.

Jacques Becker gave us a lot of French film noir, including "Casque d'or" and"Le Trou". 

In "Touchez pas au grisbi" we find all we can ask for from French film noir, including black-and-white cinematography, evocative, romantic atmosphere, brilliant script, stunning excellence of the actors' job and a tough, hard-boiled gangster-story, swift pace and action blended with a psychological design.

ALORS!! The movie is above all a story of friendship and honor. It hits us with two aged gangsters close to retirement: Max (Jean Gabin), smart and clever, and Riton (Rene Dary), naive and rash, 

So yes there is quite a normal gangster story, but Jacques Becker places unexpected explosions of violence. And there's also Gabin's trade-mark scene, when he slaps everybody, men and women as well. LOL.

Grisbi is one of the best of French film noirs, and it never ever fails. It is a movie that is good for all tastes, which maybe can't be said for Becker's other cinematic works, including his film noirs.


Trans-Europ-Express 1966

You will be unlikely to be fully prepared for Trans-Europ-Express (1966). 

Unlikely to be prepared for the beards, and there will be other shocks. 

You'll get the message soon, that this film noir is played for comedy.

"A movie producer, director and assistant take the Trans-Europ-Express from Paris to Antwerp. They get the idea for a movie about a drug smuggler on their train and visualize it while taping the script."
Director Alain Robbe-Grillet isn't the most straightforward of filmmakers to watch, it can be challenging for some, to sit down to a whole boxed set or season of his work.
But if you just want to say you've seen one of Robbe-Grillet's movies, and you like film noir, then this could be a safe bet.
It is first a story within a story and bien sur, a film within a film. The author and his friends take a train ride and begin to work on their film.  As the story appears the characters take on their own existence and reality becomes inverted and the characters and actors weave their own story as author becomes audience.

Some find this movie immensely enjoyable, and its crisp black and white helps. It is not established whether Trans-Europ Express is noir or not, but there would be no Trans-Europ Express (1966), were there not film noir, and French film noir neither, for this movie to plunder.
This film uses this song, MY BABY SHOT ME DOWN, which Quentin Tarantino also uses:


Le Trou (1959)

The Hole, or Le Trou, is an intense movie, made with masses of concentration, and demanding that of its viewers.

It's the French film noir of quiet stoicism, permeated by tough men, by no means set to mourn their dire destiny or ask for the viewer's sympathy.

Le Trou is also not exactly a prison movie, and despite being set in prison, it can't quite be classed along side the likes of Brute Force.

There's no music except for the final cast and credits but the soundtrack resembles some kind of musique concrete with its relentless thumps, whispers and screams, the creaking of the doors and the waters in the sewer and the final cacophony

Jacques Becker's on for some pure manly friendship and it seems that a certain misogyny is infiltrating Becker's worl. During the whole running time we only see one young girl (Catherine Spaak) behind a grille, for a very short while. Everything about this serious noir is hard-assed, and viewers are advised that this ingenious portrait of human interaction and cooperation will leave them stunned.


Un Condamné a Mort s’est Échappé (1956)

A Man Escaped is one of the deepest of all the French film noir, and is pure Bresson. Pure and lovely Bresson, gorgeously, distinctly bare and above all, Bresson. You can say all sorts about this ultimate prison movie, this ultimate French film noir, this ultimate essay in sound techniques in cinema.

An war movie portraying the final days and months of a convicted French officer trying to escape from a German Prison and a pending execution during World War 2.

For the most of the film viewers observe Lieutenant Fontaine (François Leterrier) come to terms with the fact that he is going to be shot very soon and that no one other than himself is going to come to his rescue.

It's all painstaking in fact, and the ritual-like preparation for the escape is wrenching in its calm severity, and the emotions, the doubt, the doubt and all the morally exacting examinations just make A Man Escaped the best fun most transcendent cinema you can pack in of an evening. 

Of all Bresson's films, this is the one that will make you start to say his name with awe. You will distil all the gravity and thematic aspects of this movie into a fantastically effective suspense mechanism, as you pause before you utter his name to anyone else:

"Bresson . . . "


Les Yeux Sans Visage (1959)

Creepy, that is the word. French film noir can be creepier than any Amercian version, and if noir is the ultimate genre-grinder, then the ultimate genre which must grind up and get into noir, is horror.

Horror grinding into film noir isn't done so well stateside, and the film noir horror blend was never right perfected in the States. But it's done well in France, that's a certainty.

The clinic of Dr. Génessier (P. Brasseur) is in a remote mansion where Christiane (Scob) is treated to the skin of women who are benumbed and made victim of a macabre surgical operation. In a hidden operating room in the basement of his house, Génessier removes the facial skin and transplants it on Christiane's face. Bit it doesn't appwar to stay.

Shadows and maziness frighten but offer the film its film noir chops, and nothing could be more pitilessly displayed than some of the razor cuts shown. 'Les yeux sans visage' remains for more than that however, as it is a place of its own, its own horror realm, an imaginary phantasmagoric place of its own suspense and shocking details, an alchemy of horror and allegoric noir whereby horror films also change at the same time . . .

Dark and bizarre. And unnervingly long.

No comments:

Post a Comment