Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 The French Had A Name For It: Crème de la Crème

Never let it be said that the Roxie doesn't know a good thing when it sees it.  First, the Roxie presented The French Had A Name For It, a 12 film series from November 14 to 17.  It was so successful that they presented The French Had A Name For It - Redux! from November 21 to 26.  From December 13 to 18, the Roxie presented Crème de la Crème of The French Had A Name For It.

Of the 12 films screened in the original series, I saw two during original series, four during the Redux! and three during the Crème de la Crème edition.  In addition, I had seen two films in the series previously at the PFA.  That means I've seen 11 of the 12 films screened.  The missing link was Les Maudits which I missed at Redux! and didn't screen at Crème de la Crème.  The Roxie added a new film to Crème de la Crème:  Le Monte-Charge.

Summarizing the films I saw during Crème de la Crème,

Le Monte-Charge (Paris Pickup) starring Robert Hossein & Lea Massari; directed by Marcel Bluwal; French with subtitles; (1962)
Chair de poule (Highway Pickup) starring Robert Hossein & Catherine Rouvel; directed by Julien Duvivier; French with subtitles; (1963)
La Vérité (The Truth) starring Brigitte Bardot & Sami Frey; directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot; French with subtitles; (1960)
Un témoin dans la ville (Witness in the City) starring Lino Ventura; directed Eduard Molinaro; French with subtitles; (1959)

As long as I'm writing about film noir, I should mention that the 2015 Noir City schedule has been announced.  This year's theme is "unholy matrimony."  Of the 25 films on the program, I have seen four (Suspicion, The Bigamist, The Thin Man & Clash by Night) of them although I need to check my records more closely.


Le Monte-Charge - Robert Hossein plays a parolee who returns to his Paris neighborhood just before Christmas.  He meets the mysterious Lea Massari who somehow manages to seduce him with barely a word and with her young son in tow.  She is married to a wealthy man and lives in a flat above his warehouse.  When he arrives there to bed her, he quickly encounters her dead husband.  He runs out of the apartment but against better judgment, he returns...and follows the woman to midnight mass...and helps take her back home after she faints.

It is the type of the film where the protagonist acts in self-destructive ways.  Even after finding out Massari's nefarious scheme, he helps her cover up the crime.  Their ultimate fate is more a comedy of errors than tragic.  Filled with long, pregnant pauses and imagery of steam engine train belching smoke, I thought the film was a little pretentious.  Le Monte-Charge was out of place with the other films in the series.

Highway Pickup was a much better vehicle for Hossein.  He plays a safe cracker who escapes prison and hides out as a car mechanic at remote gas station.  The owner Thomas (Georges Wilson) is eager to have a worker so he can take his wife Maria (Catherine Rouvel) out on the town.  It's hinted that she was a prostitute and her behavior doesn't dissuade anyone from that conclusion.  It just so happens that Thomas has a safe and Maria is very anxious to access the contents of the safe.  Once she gets her hooks into Hossein, the film travels down the noir highway at breakneck speed.

Like most of his films, Chair de poule is an exceptionally well made film.  Rouvel stands out as a particularly memorable femme fatale but all the actors are solid and the plot keeps twisting so you never quite sure how its going to end.  Highway Pickup was one of my favorite films from the series (or three series).

La Vérité was the most anticipated film of the series; at least it was for me.  As backstory, Brigitte Bardot had given birth only a few months before filming La Vérité and it most certainly didn't show.  Although married at the time of filming, Bardot began an affair on the set with her co-star Sami Frey.  Unable to choose between her husband & Frey, Bardot sought refuge in a secluded seaside village.  When the press found her, she slashed her wrists.  This is suspiciously similar to the plot of La Vérité where Bardot plays Dominique Marceau who is on trial for the murder of her lover Gilbert Tellier (Frey).  The trial and examination of witnesses allows the story of their relationship to be told in flashback.  In the end, Marceau slashes her wrists.

All that makes for a juicy prelude to the film but La Vérité is an outstanding film without knowing anything about Bardot's personal life.  It's also well known that Bardot & director Henri-Georges Clouzot clashed on the film.  I first became aware of Clouzot's mistreatment of actors and compulsive behavior from a documentary on his unfinished Inferno.  Bardot was struggling with press reports about her relationship with Frey & her jealous husband.  Clouzot allegedly drugged her drinks to calm her down and it didn't stop Bardot from allegedly slapping Clouzot's face on the set.

The premise of La Vérité is that a gold digger/tramp killed a promising symphony conductor.  As the trial unwinds, we see that the truth is more complex as the Bardot is a confused young woman swept up in Paris cafe culture and the upstanding young man is less than innocent.  The root of the problem is this intense sexual desire between the two and Clouzot captures Bardot's ample sexuality with gusto.  If nothing else, La Vérité should be seen to see Bardot at the height of sexiness.  Bardot's performance is noteworthy as well.  She continually layers complexities on to Dominique's seemingly vapid and venal character until the end when I felt her torment as acutely as any movie experience.

On top of the backstory & Bardot's performance, Clouzot adds a cynical and entertaining commentary about the French system of jurisprudence through the machinations and rivalries among the attorneys and other legal participants.  I was very impressed by La Vérité.

Witness in the City wasn't a bad film but it certainly suffered in comparison to Highway Pickup and La Vérité.  Lino Ventura plays a cuckold who kills his wife's lover & murderer.  Unfortunately, a taxi driver witnesses the murder so Ventura must kill again.  He doesn't count on the rather unified cabal of lethal taxi killers.  It was a little absurd towards the end but I can't complain too much.  I became a little bored by the extended end chase.  It was nice to see a young Lino Ventura.


2015 Noir City Poster

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