EMBRACE YEAR-ROUND "WINTER IN THE SOUL"...!
NOIR in December has often been a kind of gimmick—it has been bound up in the Christmas season, which we all actually hope transcends the noir impulse (which, let’s face it, is not really aligned with the sentiments of Yuletide).
That’s why the notion of “Noircember” is a bit of a hard sell, earmarked more as a portal to a future return to darkness (e.g. Noir City’s “Xmas show,” used primarily to promote its January extravaganza).
And here at MCP we’ve gone that route before, with NOIR NOEL bringing you Christmas-themed films from the “lost continent” of classic French noir—most notably 1962’s LE MONTE-CHARGE, with FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT favorite Robert Hossein caught in the cross-hairs during a Christmas Eve his character will definitely wish he’d spent elsewhere. (The baffling irony about LE MONTE-CHARGE, however, is that it was actually released to theaters in…May!)
BUT as the “Noirvember” meme has gained traction, we find ourselves wanting to claim the middle ground between that “liminal month” and the well-established “bleak road” that has been paved (since 2003, at least…) through January. So here we are, with sugar plums and winter wonderlands hovering around us—and, bucking the odds, we’re ready to keep the dark flame of noir burning into December.
Make that “Noircember”…
Here at MCP we hope you’ll keep that flame burning just a little bit longer, and join us on Monday, December 4 (birthday of Cornell Woolrich and Gérard Philipe, not to mention yours truly…) when we bring you one of the very best noir double features of any nationality you’ll ever see.
WITNESS IN THE CITY and THE SEVENTH JUROR epitomize everything about film noir that makes it such a queasily exhilarating experience. Murder? Check. Cat-and-mouse plot dynamics? Check. Existential dread? Check!
These two films are wonderful examples of film noir as it evolved in France underneath what people think is “French noir”—those heist films that became popular in the mid-1950s, and that have obscured the true “last wave” of noir’s efflorescence in the hands of young turk directors like Hossein, Edouard Molinaro (who directed WITNESS in 1959), and Georges Lautner (reaching his peak with THE SEVENTH JUROR in 1962). As we’ve discovered over the ten years of FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT festivals, these were incredibly exciting times for film noir, but they’d been lost to us due to forces of cinema history that kicked these achievements to the curb and left them for dead. (Kind of a noir situation in its own right, n’est-ce pas?)
WITNESS IN THE CITY gives Lino Ventura his first great leading role, as a revenge murderer who makes just one mistake in committing his crime—he leaves a witness, a cab driver (Franco Fabrizi) whom he decides must be eliminated. That task proves to be easier said than done, of course, and the shift from Ventura’s character from hunter to hunted is the film’s sensational, accelerating twist.
It’s sweaty, desperate, suspenseful night-time action on the streets of Paris that will make you forget all about dashing through the snow or making a list and checking it twice. The dark winter of the soul is magnificently embodied by Ventura, who’d use this role as a stepping-stone to further memorable excursions into anguished, haunted characters throughout the 1960s (and beyond).
THE SEVENTH JUROR, made three years later, epitomizes everything that Mick LaSalle so astutely noted in his very first discussion of “lost French noir” back in 2014. Sexual frankness permeates these films that emerge in France during the second half of the 1950s—they are ahead of their American counterparts in revealing the hold that such urges have on the characters whose coiling sense of desire leads them into dubious and dangerous behavior.
And Bernard Blier’s provincial pharmacist opens up an abyss that he didn’t know was waiting for him when a single act of pathetic lechery goes horribly wrong, leading him into a series of desperate actions that keep pulling him toward disaster. As he tries to game the judicial system, he discovers that the forces he’s unleashed upon his community have warped everything—and that the ultimate “justice” meted out is more heinous and horrifying still.
THESE are two men of ordinary looks who give two of the great performances in all of film noir—whether in America or any other nationality. And let’s acknowledge, as the next Noir City will also do, that what we now call classic film noir was truly a world-wide phenomenon. The French didn’t just coin the term, they also invented the form—and they were still making the most vital and challenging titles in that thirty-five year cycle (1932-1966) right up to the end.
I know that the “great faithful” folk who’ve been the bedrock support for the FRENCH series in the post-pandemic age are already on board for this very special “Noircember” event…this post is for those of you still teetering on the verge of joining or re-joining us as we continue our journeys on “the lost continent” of French noir.
This show plays in the big theater, not in the screening room—so we have room for any and all who are ready for an excursion into the wintry soul of film noir as only the French could do it. Here is a portal into everything you find alluring about these dark, rough-but-sleek tales of lust, greed, revenge, mischance, and good old human frailty. Join us Monday night—yes, we know it’s the hardest night to leave home—to take a journey into noir that is like no other.
Ordinary men whose lives go haywire in an instant…don’t miss the chill in the air that reaches from the screen and grabs you by the neck and threatens never to let go. Watch them as they rage against the noir machine, and be part of a collective awareness that “there but for the grace of God…” go all of us.