Friday, April 01, 2005

Le Cinema: French Noir

The film noir series that unspools each autumn at the Seattle Art Museum is always a high point of the city’s movie-going year. At least I think it is. It’s so popular that I’ve never been able to get into the damn thing. And I may face the same problem with the new program Love Crimes: Sixty Years of French Film Noir, which kicks off April 7 and runs every Thursday through June 9.

I’ll confess to being slightly underwhelmed by the selections on the calendar. It’s heavy on the usual suspects, many of which are already available on DVD – RIFIFI, DIABOLIQUE, Clouzot’s sublime QUAI DES ORFEVRES. A few titles were in local theaters not too long ago, like Jacques Becker’s TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI. And there’s no Jean-Pierre Melville, which is flat out wrong. How can it be a French noir fest without Melville?

Still, any opportunity to see these films on the big screen is one worth taking.

The series closes with the Seattle premiere of Claude Chabrol’s THE FLOWER OF EVIL, a film that debuted on the Sundance Channel last week. Chabrol introduces us to a criminally content Bordeaux clan with a long and sordid history that includes Nazi collaboration, incest and murder. Skeletons begin tumbling out of the closet when the matriarch decides to run for mayor. Chabrol’s interest here is not so much in providing thrills but in dissecting bourgeoisie mores, where all sins are treated equally provided you get away with them. It’s proof that the French still know their way around film noir. They did name the genre, after all.

DVD: Red Lights (2004)

Future installments of the series may want to include this Cédric Kahn adaptation of Georges Simenon’s novel. A milquetoast husband (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his high-powered attorney wife (Carole Bouquet) begin their vacation with a long drive. They quarrel over the husband’s drinking and separate. The husband picks up a mysterious hitchhiker. Very bad things happen.

It’s an intense film that deftly anatomizes a marriage as it delivers suspense. The mixed message sent by the movie’s conclusion only adds to the creepy tone.

TV: The Alan Partridge Experience

BBC America does all of us on this side of the pond a favor by bringing back Steve Coogan’s deliriously deluded chat show host. The fun starts with 1994’s KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU and continues with both series of I’M ALAN PARTRIDGE. Saturdays at 11PM Eastern and Pacific. Don’t miss it.

Miscellaneous: Quote of the Day

From a New York Times article on the struggles between James Dolan and his father Charles over the future of the family business Cablevision:

The father-son combat is, said Aryeh Bourkoff, an analyst at UBS Securities, ‘50 percent King Lear and 50 percent Norman Lear.’