Thursday, August 07, 2008

An accent on thrillers

"The French Crime Wave" breaks out at New York's Film Forum, for five weeks beginning tomorrow. It's a grab bag of titles from 1937-2000, encompassing film noir, thrillers, and a few that are a bit of one or the other and something else besides. (That would include the classic Eyes Without a Face, a personal favorite, screening Aug. 27 with the equally indispensable Diabolique, that has aspects of crime movies but is more of a horror picture, albeit a quite poetic one.)

The festival is in a way a celebration of Film Forum itself. Many of these long-unseen pictures were revived there for the first time in decades, then fanned out to other rep houses before getting the deluxe treatment on Criterion DVD. Some I first saw there were the late Jules Dassin's Rififi, which starts the show this weekend; a number of the excellent Jean-Pierre Melville pictures, including the coldly precise epic Le Cercle Rouge (Aug. 15-16) and Les Doulos (Aug. 24-25); and Jacques Becker's engrossing Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (Aug. 17-18) and Casque D'Or (Sept. 2).

All are worth revisiting. And there is some fresh blood, too. Arthouses tend to get the more prestigious films with the great Gallic stars, but they made the rounds in the shadowier corners of genre cinema, and continue to do so. If you don't get the Fox Movie Channel, which plays it occasionally, this is your chance to see Jean Gabin, Alain Delon, and Lino Ventura in the entertaining The Sicilian Clan, and Delon, Catherine Deneuve, and Richard Crenna in Melville's swan song, Un Flic, which are doubled up on Aug. 28. On either side of the law, Delon, no stranger to shadier walks of life offscreen, is a constant presence in these films--he and Jean-Paul Belmondo team up for the nostalgic mob hit Borsalino on Aug. 12, then he solos as the talented Mr. Ripley in Rene Clement's iconic Purple Noon (Aug. 13-14, pictured), which along with Le Samourai got me interested in the actor when it was revived in the mid-90s.

And more: Robert Bresson's legendary Pickpocket and A Man Escaped (Aug. 20), both gripping in their own ascetic manner, and Bertrand Tavernier's sly Coup De Torchon (Aug. 25), with Philippe Noiret and Isabelle Huppert. Plus Brigitte Bardot, in a film from Diabolique and Wages of Fear (Sept. 4) director Henri-Georges Clouzot, Le Verite. The truth is, crime does pay.

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