French Film Noir #3


Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes (1955)

After he was blacklisted from Hollywood, Jules Dassin made his way to France where he was asked to direct Rififi.

He shot Rififi with a low budget, without a star cast, and with the production staff working for low wages. And the film earned Dassin the award for Best Direcor at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival and is still acclaimed by all in the know as one of the greatest works in French film noir.

An entire quarter of the film's running time is spent on the most memorable and the most silent heist in all of movie history.

Although this robbery only took up 10 pages of the 150 page novel Dassin was directing, Dassin was so disgusted by the novel's racist themes, and not knowing how to shoot the necrophilia, he opted to make a virtue of the long heist scene and made a thing of beauty, as well as cinema history.

Jean Servais as Tony "le Stéphanois" - a gangster who recently returned from serving five years in prison for jewel theft.
The eldest member in on the heist, in Jules Dassin's Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes (1955)

Goupi Mains Rouges (1943)

Goupi Main Rouges by Jacques Becker, also known as "It Happened at the Inn" and "Goupi Red Hands" offers more of the qualities of a farce than it does a true French film noir. 

Some of it is indeed pure oddity, or at least it might seem that way to audiences who're not used to provincially set pseudo-comic and theatrical family mysteries.

There isn't much genuine complexity to the mystery either, as a fractious family of generally failing old farts attempt to establish who killed the elderly woman who headed up the clan. 

There is a general lack of sophistication that is both charming and at times, tiring. And for collectors of these things, there is a starring role from Robert Le Vigan, best friend with disgraced WW2 collabo and celebrated novelist, Louis Ferdinand Celine.

"Le Vig" was not only a collaborator with the Nazis during the occupation, buit he openly expressed fascist attitudes, and was sentenced to forced labour for ten years in 1946. Released on parole after three years working in a camp, Le Vigan absconded to Spain, and then Argentina, dying there in poverty in October 1972.

Voici à quoi ressemble un vrai fasciste

So even if it's not top drawer French film noir, perhaps the very presence of Le Vigan offers a deeper darkness than might otherwise be felt.

It does make you wonder why director Jacques Becker would work with him at all, but it may have been for commercial reasons, as German distributors began to take over film release in Occupied France, and movie making doubtless became a hard political and personal tussle for many.

Becker himself  joined the Comité de libération du cinéma français and later directed several great French film noirs, including Casque d'or (1952), the influential gangster film Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), and the amazing prison escape drama Le Trou (1959).


Pickpocket  (1959)

Simply one of the most compelling French films of all time, largely thanks to the  performance of Martin Lasalle, and the way Robert Bresson photographs him.

It's hard to stop watching in fact, and Bresson's camera spends the entire film glaring at the nervous young man, which gives this essential Fremch Film Noir its essential existential mood.

It's not what you'd call despair, and not exactly emptiness either. 

It's a little of both perhaps, with a strictly sober and formal style, and questions of moral and philosophical moment casually drawn throughout.

To some people, Robert Bresson's masterpieces appear pedestrian; some complain films like Pickpocket are too paradoxical and that in this case the anti-hero seems appalled and yet drawn to his criminal profession; others despair at the lingering camera shots of closed and opening and closing doors.

When a character is so devoid of apparent emotion as the character in Pickpocket, however, we become super-sensitive to his most subtle mannerisms. It's so pronounced that you are excited when you notice an eye movement or a blink.

The ultimate success is that Pickpocket presents compulsion,and self-examination, as seen in Michel's diary and his film noir style voice over.

Emotionless French Film Noir with Robert Bresson's 'PICKPOCKET' (1959)
It's a special flavour of film, this French style noir, offering male loneliness and anguish, in public spaces.

The plot, if there even is one is threadbare, but at the beginning, and even before the opening credits, Bresson stresses that this is not crime thriller and explains that he seeks, through image and sound, to express the nightmare of a young man led by weakness to adventure in stealing, for which he was not destined to escape ...

No comments:

Post a Comment