Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"The French Had a Name for It" celebrates 4th edition in San Francisco

By Moira Sullivan



Beginning right after Halloween is the continuation of the by now legendary series in San Francisco
at the Roxie Theatre: The French Had a Name for It - 4,  with 13 examples of film noir from France.The series is presented by Midcentury Productions and curated by programmer Don Malcolm. That is 4 days of Noir from November 3-6, 2017.

Malcolm is interviewed later in the show for the noir series he has brought to life lauding the laurels of forgotten French films – films that were absorbed and cast aside when the French new wave came along with film critics turned filmmakers, such as Jean Luc Godard and François Truffaut.

Malcolm tells us about how this was a hybrid period where the noir predecessors influenced the new wave who used some of their style – their mise en scène – lighting, setting, characters, sound and camera angles. France did not have a blacklist period as in America so a director like Joseph Losey associated with the American film noir made films on the seedy side of life. In his remake of M (1951) a lunatic played by David Wayne preys on young girls because he was made to feel rotten and was punished as a child. An organized crime syndicate led by Luther Adler, Martin Gabel and Raymond Burr becomes a vigilante groups to stamp out the vermin that preys on society without giving them a fair trial - a film whose seediness emanates from the treachery of the blacklist inquiries. But  French Noir had its own dark side.

The centerpiece program poster of the The French Had a Name for It - 4, the fourth year of programs at the Roxie. features the beloved Jeanne Moreau who died July 31. She stars in Mademoiselle in a role that was one of her darker portraits, directed by Tony Richardson after a play by Jean Genet, made in 1966. The British director, father of Joely Richardson and the late Natasha Richardson fell in love with Moreau while still married to Vanessa Redgrave a year before they divorced. The film is a salty tale of a sultry seductress who sets fires in a little French village. Suspicions are cast on a few Italian guest workers who come to cut timber. Mademoiselle is a school teacher from Paris and the young son of one of the workers is her student who she chastises for wearing short pants to school. She humiliates him mercilessly and at the same time has the little village in her grasp – educating the young, the femme fatale of the town setting fires with black lace gloves, ringing the fire bell, and all because of her repressed passion. It’s a project that Tony Richardson felt suiting for his mistress that never married him. 

A second film paying tribute to Jeanne Moreau is The Strange Mister Steve / L'étrange Monsieur Steve from 1957 who play the mistress of a gangster. Another impossible couple up to no good is Jean Gabin featured as a truck driver in Hi-Jack Highway / Gas-Oil Oil from 1955 with Jeanne Moreau as his girlfriend directed by Gilles Grangier. Gabin returns with, Danielle Darrieux, who lived to be 100 and just passed away October 17 in a film  made in 1958, The Night Affair / Le Désordre Et La Nuit also directed by Grangier.

Stéphane Audran and Bernadette Lafont in Les Bonnes Femmes


Veteran film director Claude Chabrol is featured in the program with Les Bonnes Femmes/ The Good Time Girls, starring the late Bernadette La Font from 1960. Together with Stéphane Audran, Clotilde Joana, and Lucile Saint-Simon, the women work in an appliance shop with a lecherous boss by day and take to the streets of Paris for good times after hours at night clubs. They are rey for the men at the clubs and somehow manage to get to work on time at 9am in the morning. The film shows that women are stuck in meaningless jobs and becomes a morality lesson on their loose morals at night. The predatory males are not held accountable in the male gaze of the film.

Bernadette La Font is also featured in Le Beau Serge ("Handsome Serge") directed by Claude Chabrol. One again La Font plays a go between for two young men in a small French town. François (Jean-Claude Brialy) has returned home after an absence and resumes his friendship with his friend who hates his wife and has become an alcoholic. These two films can be said to be clear predecessors of the New Wave. 

Also noteworthy in the program is the brilliant Maria Casares, who plays the immortal figure of death in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1951) is featured in The Ladies Of Boulogne Wood / Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne (1945)  directed by Robert Bresson.

Maria Casares in Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 11/01/17
Movie Magazine International

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