French Film Noir #2

Le Corbeau (1943)

Le Corbeau (1943), in English known as The Raven is set in a paranoid French village called St. Robin, and is malicious and twisted fun.

A series of poison-pen letters, all signed "The Raven"– has activated the villagers' most wicked and weakened sides into spying, whispering and finger-pointing.

Worse, when Le Corbeau was released in Nazi occupied France in 1943 , and done so by a German production company, it wasn't welcomed that warmly. Its unflattering portrait of the French bourgeoisie, in fact, was considered by many as being virtually treasonous.

At first sight, the movie which depicts the malign minds lurking in the French provinces, seems like a simple whodunit. But the true colours of this French film noir, are black, black and black again. Misanthropy is the ultimate flavour here.

Le Corbeau was different from the more traditional 'Occupation' movies which rolled along the lines of Carné's "les visiteurs du soir" or Jean Delannoy/Jean Cocteau's "l'éternel retour"

After liberation, Clouzot became one of many artists to suffer from accusations of collaboration, simply because his vision of humanity was perecived by those unable to look too far, as a vision of France. It was 1947 before HG Clouzot was allowed to direct again but anyone who knows his subsequent work will testify that not only were more masterpieces to follow, but his venom did not ever dry up.



Dédée d'Anvers (1948)

Dédée d'Anvers (Dédée of Antwerp) is an unmissable slice of post-war French film noir, up to its neck in misery and with tensions, bullying and poverty galore.

There are questions regarding whether Dédée d'Anvers is a late example of French poetic realism, as it goes out of its way to solidly portray the lives of the desperate port rats who make up Dédée's desperate life. 

Or whether it is noir, a style the French did just as well as the US did.

Dédée d'Anvers is bleak, even for a film noir, and is the opposite of the post-war optimism that was in 1948, already finding its way into British cinema. It is worthwhile contrasting how British and Amercian films portary some of the less-refined examples of its characters' lives, esepcially the prostitution and violence. The prostitution is not hinted at but openly described, and the violence is frank and extended in parts, notably in a street fight which hugely excites Simone Signoret's character, the prostitute Dédée. She is never happier, it seems, than when watching men hurting and killing each other. And the street fight is brutal!

The black and white misery is completed by rolling shots of the bleakest of bleak ports, and some of the action is staged there too. The final effect is captivating: ultimately Dédée d'Anvers shows a very attractive woman within miserable surroundings, including a bullying household attached to a pretty seedy sailors' bar in a declining port. The language adds to the scenery, and Dédée d'Anvers has scenes in English, Flemish, German, Italian and of course French, suggesting that painful mix.

Finally, Dédée d'Anvers has one of the grimmest, blackest, hardest, meanest and merciless endings in all film noir. There's nothing like it.

And if your fantasies involve cigarette smoking, of which there is a lot oin film noir, is hard to beat in that department also.


Deux Hommes dans Manhattan (1959)

The ONLY Film Noir You'll Ever Need!
Two Men in Manhattan is one of the most 'noir' films going.

Everything concerning every trope in what we now identify as film noir is contained within. There are hoods in long coats and hats, there are guns, dames, night clubs and deals with the devil. Deux Hommes dans Manhattan looks and feels like hommage and that is what it is. It's Jean-Pierre Melville's hommage to all the cinema he loves.

The great thing about this is that Melville condenses noir, for all to see. It's stunning, even if you do not know what is going on. And that is likely if you are watching it in V.O. (version originale = French!), as there are not many subtitled opportunities to see this glorious work, these days.

Which is a pity, as there is depth and joy, and a deep well of thought from which springs this tale of gangsterism and mystery. 

"Nothing seems real. You don't exist. I must wake up," says the failed suicidal actress, as she is pressed into revealing the whereabouts of her lover, missing UN diplomat, womaniser and Resistance hero Fevre-Berthier. This is by all standards also a most realistic film, and shot around and about the bright-neon signs of New York, it is at the same time a pure dream, separating its characters into silhouettes and fragments, as they walk, drive, drive and walk in an echo-heavy, empty and silent city, blasted from time to time by angry squalls of jazz; Deux Hommes dans Manhattan might be the only film noir you'll ever need.


Le Deuxième Souffle (1966)

Jean-Pierre Melville was the most devoted follower of American film noir in the entire history of French cinema, and as such he features many, many times in these articles about French film noir.

It's not that one or two of his movies could or should be picked. Jean-Pierre Melville just continued to make French film noir, again and again.

Le Deuxième Souffle (1966) is maybe not Melville's most popular film, and that may be down to the length, and the fact that it gets exceptionally detailed at times. The time flies however, and because it is icy and angst, the action, even when things seem static, is quite gripping.

It is both an adorable and some would say quintessential 1960s hesit film, and gangster film, and a combination thereof. About three quarters of the way through it turns tail again and follows one of the gangsters as he tries to prove that he hasn't been a police informer. As with other of Melville's gangster vs police movies you sometimes begin to wonder if he's really dealing with the issue of wartime resistance to the German occupation.

The pace is what you'd expect, by which I mean too slow for some. But not for fans of French film noir, for whom the rewards await. Great tension in the 'men in rooms with guns' scenes, the tense waiting for the door to open or the blow to strike; the planning and lingering, and the mena streets, punctuated here by an exceptionally well shot heist scene, on a high, southern French plateau.

We'll leave you with some stills to give you a flavour of this amazing spectacle:




Les Diaboliques (1954)

Heavy with evil, Les Diaboliques (1954) is one of the most popular French films of all time. And it is also one of the best known French film noirs.

There is a side of film noir that is about close relationships, dark happenings within families, paranoia, murder amd claustrophobia.

The family unit in Les Diaboliques is the provinical school, and the darkness abounds in the classic French femme fatale figure - Nicole Horner, as immortally characterised by Simone Signoret.

One of the world's films that has truly stood the test of time, Les Diaboliques a wicked murder mysetry that is always a good night in, or out. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, whose Le Corbeau (1943) heads up this page, Les Diaboliques has all the tension and drama you'd expect. Without giving anything away, this is probably the best psychological thriller of all time, and is a complete suspense package. 

What more hyperbole to be added? None! Not just for the fan of French film noir,  Les Diaboliques is Clouzot's gift to the lovers of thrillers, teling as it does an amazing sequence of events that just gets scarier and more fascinating. Suspense galore. (IMDB link)

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