WEIRDLAND: French Film Noir at Roxie Theater

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

French Film Noir at Roxie Theater

The Roxie Theater is launching a remarkable festival on Friday, Nov. 14, of films you’ve never heard of. The festival is called 'The French Had a Name For It: French Film Noir 1946-1964.' French noirs have a special freedom in that they aren’t censored. The subject matter and situations are adult, the language can be strong, and there are flashes of nudity. Things that had to be hinted at in American noirs could be stated. Scenes don’t end outside the bedroom door.

The festivities start Friday night with “La Verité” (1960), starring Brigitte Bardot, who might be the revelation of this festival. Wow. Just see her. She’s terrific as a free-love beatnik on trial for murder. It’s paired with “Manon” (1949), a modern retelling of the novel “Manon Lescaux,” starring Cecile Aubry, a kind of perverse pixie. There are two double features on Saturday. In the afternoon, there’s “The Damned” (1947), about defeated Nazis trying to escape to South America. It’s paired with “A Kiss for a Killer” (1957), a festival highlight, with Henri Vidal as a shady operator who marries a rich woman but finds himself drawn to her secretary (Mylène Demongeot).

At night, there’s “Blonde in a White Car” (1958), another demented entry, this one about a guy living with two sisters and trying to figure out which one he had sex with in a dark car; and “Witness in the City” (1959), with Lino Ventura as a man desperate to kill a cabdriver, the sole witness to murder. What makes the movie typically French is that the audience is on everybody’s side. We like the murderer (he had his reasons), and we like the cabdriver. We like everybody. It’s just an unfortunate situation.

Sunday morning is devoted to prostitution, with a young and lovely Simone Signoret as “Dédée d’Anvers” (1948), a hooker with a violent streak; and Bardot in “Love Is My Profession” (1958), pitch-perfect as a flighty young woman who can’t stay out of trouble. She stars opposite Jean Gabin, one of the most instantly lovable actors in film history. Don’t miss “Highway Pickup” (1963), my favorite film in the festival, a kind of “Postman Always Rings Twice,” but from a completely different angle. It’s playing with “Deadlier Than the Male” (1956), with Gabin as a guileless chef targeted by an evil vixen. The festival closes on Monday night with the two films on race, “The Respectful Prostitute” and “I Spit on Your Graves.” As portraits of America — dealing with subjects Hollywood didn’t dare touch at the time — they’re unforgettable. Source:

"There's an odd quirk inside that didn't change with 'success' (after Dedee d'Anvers) and still hasn't. I think: It worked this time. I put it over on them. I made them believe I could do it. But one of these days they're going to discover the fakery. They're going to find out I'm only an amateur." -Simone Signoret

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