26 July, 2008

French Crime Wave Hits Manhattan

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

With temperatures hitting record high levels on the steamy streets of New York, the timing could not be better to escape the blazing sunshine and enter the black and white world of classic French film noir. The heat that comes off the screen is from the repertory series coming to the Film Forum, New York's most adventurous arthouse cinema complex, in the form of THE FRENCH CRIME WAVE,a five-week, thirty-eight film festival of Gallic Noir and thrillers, spanning over six decades. The treachery a la francaise begins next Friday, August 8 and runs through September 11.

The French not only coined the term Film Noir (a play on Série Noire, a popular line of pulp crime novels) to define a certain kind of Hollywood thriller, but also had their own Golden Age of Noir and a tradition of crime movies that continues to this day. THE FRENCH CRIME WAVE includes classics and rarities by such masters of the genre as Jean-Pierre Melville (Bob Le Flambeur, Le Cercle Rouge, Un Flic, Le Doulos), Jacques Becker (Touchez pas au Grisbi, Casque d’or, Goupi Mains Rouge), Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique, Quai des Orfèvres, Wages of Fear), Georges Franju (Eyes Without a Face), Jacques Deray (La Piscine, Borsalino), René Clément (Purple Noon), Louis Malle (Elevator to the Gallows, The Thief of Paris), Claude Chabrol (La Cérémonie), Robert Bresson (Pickpocket, A Man Escaped), and François Truffaut (Mississippi Mermaid).

Among the many stars showcased are the five French tough guys (hommes durs) of the genre, including Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Alain Delon. The femme fatales who work their deadly charms in the series include such dynamic dames as Simone Signoret, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, and Brigitte Bardot.

THE FRENCH CRIME WAVE kicks off with perhaps the most famous and popular French Noir of them all: the seminal 1955 heist film Rififi, directed by the late Jules Dassin. The American-born director came to Europe in the early 1950s, a victim of the Hollywood blacklist. For his first European film, he turned a potboiler by milieu specialist Auguste le Breton into an existential thriller that earned him the Best Director prize at Cannes. Rififi is especially legendary for its thirty-minute heist sequence, without dialogue or music, and details so specific that the picture was banned in some countries for fear of copycat robberies.

Among the many rarities in the festival are Clouzot’s La Vérité, starring Brigitte Bardot as a hedonistic bourgeoisie on trial for murder; Jacques Deray’s The Sicilian Clan, starring three of the most iconic hommes durs — Jean Gabin, Alain Delon, and Lino Ventura — as a family of jewel robbers; Yves Allégret’s Riptide, in which murderer Gérard Philipe returns to his childhood home; Alain Corneau's Série Noire, a twisted pulp masterwork that puts a Parisian twist on the Hollywood noir classic Double Indemnity; the darkly comical Les Tontons Flingueurs, starring Lino Ventura as an ex-gangster pulled back into the business; André Cayatte’s We Are All Murderers, in which a former Resistance fighter finds he can’t stop killing; and Jacques Becker’s Goupi Mains Rouges, with rustic murder at a country inn.

The festival will conclude with a one-week run of Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, based on a story by American pulp novelist David Goodis. For more information on the series and other events at the Film Forum, log on to:

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