Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Série noire

Alain Corneau is one of the most unsung and underrated French directors. He started his career in the early seventies with gritty crime films, like Police Python 357 (1976). Série noire (1979) is based on Jim Thompson's Hell of a Woman and I think it's a seminal film: it's the first in the new wave Jim Thompson film versions. (I think Burt Kennedy's The Killer Inside Me was still old wave. Though I have never seen it.) After Série noire came Coup de torchon in 1981 and then, some years later, The Kill-OffAfter Dark, My Sweet and The Grifters, all in 1990.

Corneau's film is a quite slow-moving, but in the end an almost diabolically hysteric story of the downward spiral we so much love about Thompson's work. Patrick Dewaere jumps around like Woody Woodpecker on speed and gets sudden spurts of violence. This is the best part in Corneau's film - he handles arbitrary violence very well, with great verve. Violence is never portrayed as funny, but still the chaotic killings are the funniest parts in the film (especially when Dewaere places the gun in the wrong dead man's hand). The ending is very cruel, as befits a Jim Thompson filmatization.

The French title of course refers to the legendary book series Série noire that had almost all the important American and British hardboiled and noir writers. In English-speaking markets, the film was called... um, actually can't find that tidbit. Maybe it's never been shown in the English-speaking countries. That's impossible!

More overlooked films here.


Todd Mason said...

And, of course, when you use "New Wave" in this context, you invite confusion with the '60s CAHIERS DU CINEMA crowd and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, and all.

Looks like it mostly got art-house distribution in the States, where the French title would've sufficed...

Juri said...

Yeah, but that's not what I meant. Maybe my writing isn't as clear as it used to be, but what I meant was that these new films gave away the old noir clichés and brought the stories to new environments (Série noire takes place in contemporary France, in a nameless and a pretty desolate city somewhere, Coup de torchon (from Pop. 1280) takes place in Africa somewhere). Maybe the French adaptations are more free than the ones Hollywood did.

But then again, there were no previous Jim Thompson films, except Peckinpah's and Burt Kennedy's films. I'm not sure if they represent old Hollywood at all. (I'm sure someone counts The Killing and The Paths of Glory as Jim Thompson films.)