Merci for "cinquante in 2023"...
+ NEWS ABOUT MCP'S SPRING SERIES!
THE past two years have been the busiest ever for MCP as that shadowy organization continues its penumbral quest to both “curse the darkness” and “light a candle” for those in search of lost and overlooked cinematic gems.
Despite many unusual bumps in the road in 2023, fifty films were screened—a number second only to our total in the previous year (fifty-two, which prompted several of you to congratulate us on finally playing with a full deck—if only that was true!).
Included in that fifty (“cinquante” in French…) were some repeat screenings—from France, in order of appearance: UN REVENANT (1946), LES JEUX SONT FAITS (1947), LE DERNIER TOURNANT (1939), FILLE DU DIABLE (1946), RAFLES SUR LA VILLE (1958), DÉDÉE D’ANVERS (1948), IMPASSE DES DEUX ANGES (1948), RETOUR DE MANIVELLE (1957), UN TEMOIN DANS LA VILLE (1959), and LE SEPTIÈME JURÉ (1962); from Japan: CASH CALLS HELL (1966); from Brazil: ASSAULT ON THE PAY TRAIN (1962)—for any other entity, these twelve would have been a landmark festival of rediscovery in its own right.
We also dabbled a bit in what our colleagues at the Film Noir Foundation have taken to calling “English language films”: THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), DECOY (1946)—imagine those two on a double bill!—and THE BIG COMBO (1955)…films that help to reveal the tonal gaps that exist in American noir when one juxtaposes them with “foreign language films” (as might become obvious to a larger audience over at the Grand Lake Theater a few weeks from now).
One thing we discovered in 2023 was that “international noir” deserves its own niche separate from either American (“English language”) or French, which have a more entrenched relationship to their nation’s “official culture” than is the case elsewhere. We saw this clearly in what might prove to be our finest festival ever, A RARE NOIR IS GOOD TO FIND 3, with its staggering juxtaposition of transgressive tonality established right from the outset with Mexico’s AVENTURERA (the true template for that nation’s reelingly raucous caberetara sub-genre) and never letting up in the subsequent journey through Europe (Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Norway, and Greece, as well as the previously mentioned Japan and Brazil).
To spout a well-worn cliché, there is more where that came from, and when we (possibly) emerge from a hibernation that will begin in 2025, you’ll be astonished at what else we (yes, the “royal we”…!) will have up our sleeves for you.
But let’s focus on 2023 just a bit more: here is my chance to share what I consider to be the indelible highlights of our three series during this past year. We can’t take credit for rediscovering the intriguing oeuvre of Louis Valray, who opened our OTHER SIDE OF THE LOST CONTINENT series last April (LA BELLE DE NUIT/ESCALE), but the film that adjoined that singular double feature, AMOK, revealed another mercurial and mysterious talent in Russian emigré Fedor Ozep.
We were treated to another superb performance from the great Harry Baur in CETTE VIELLE CANAILLE, where another Russian emigré, Anatole Litvak, shows that what we’ve come to call “pre-code” is not just an American phenomenon, reminding us just what got lost when the Production Code was imposed on Hollywood. (As Mick LaSalle notes, French films were not subjected to any of that—hence their more organic tonal range.)
As OTHER SIDE ‘23 (soon to be joined by OTHER SIDE ‘24—more on that shortly!) moved into the 1940s, we were treated to the unique star power of the young Danielle Darrieux (particularly BATTEMENT DE COEUR), challenged by the narrative imperatives of Albert Valentin (MARIE-MARTINE), and ultimately delighted by the nocturnal shenanigans of Micheline Presle and Fernand Gravey in LA NUIT FANTASTIQUE, which reminded us that silent film masters such as Marcel L’Herbier didn’t just fade away.
The summer international noir series reminded us that Raf Vallone was much more than just a hunk, as EYES LEAVE TRACES amply demonstrated; we were challenged by the works of two uncompromising auteurs, Norway’s Erik Lochen (THE CHASERS) and Greece’s Kostas Manoussakis (O FOVOS). And we rediscovered the consummate range of the great Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai in two criminally rare gems, THE BEAST SHALL DIE and CASH CALLS HELL.
The recently concluded FRENCH ‘23 was a crash course in French noir’s unique tonal range (as we like to say: “vive la difference!”) beginning with under-appreciated “film noir catalyst” Pierre Chenal’s finest film, LA FOIRE AUX CHIMERES, featuring what might be Erich von Stroheim’s greatest performance ; and continuing that same day with the long-suppressed, astonishing achievement of LES SORCIERES DE SALEM (the French version of THE CRUCIBLE: shame on Arthur Miller for blocking its reappearance for so long…). Then, to put a ribbon on our first weekend, a pair of superb films showcasing the young Simone Signoret.
Then, the next weekend, we moved seamlessly into high gear with the 30s trio of LA BANDERA (the rough, bracing side of Julien Duvivier), CARREFOUR (the steely-but-sensitive gaze of Charles Vanel), and SANS LENDEMAIN (Edwige Feuillère and Max Ophuls at their melodramatic best).
Then, later that day, a showcase for the superlative Michèle Morgan, including her brilliant, cast-against-type performance in RETOUR DE MANIVELLE; and, finally, on closing night, noir’s essential existential entrapment was distilled in the fraught fate of two murderers (Lino Ventura and Bernard Blier) in a finale celebrating the glorious final phase of classic French noir (what I’ve taken to calling “the last wave,” an efflorescence shunned & ignored at the time, then overlooked for half a century).
What a year it was—all this, and INSTAGRAMMATOLOGY too. Thanks so very much for your support of all the projects and obsessions that have come to define MCP’s uniquely syncretic mission.
BUT now 2024 beckons to us, with its strange mixture of ominousness and wonder. With luck and some kind assistance from the Roxie Theater, we hope to match our film output one more time—though that hope is not quite yet a reality. We (yes, the “royal we”!) will keep you posted. The extent of our “grand finale” for THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT is still TBD.
What we can tell you is that a 14 or 15-film series primarily based on the research and advocacy of the tireless Phoebe Green has been given the green light by the Roxie: it will happen over five days/nights in the early spring—to be specific, it starts on Saturday, March 30 and runs through Wednesday, April 3.
The festival midpoint (Monday, April 1) will be held in the Roxie’s big theater, and will screen at least two films featuring Jeanne Moreau.
That said, Phoebe’s series is really not about star power in front of the camera—its subtitle (“Auteures”) showcases the creative talent of women behind the scenes during the “cinema de papa” era—unfamiliar but worthy names such as Louise de Vilmorin, Annette Wademant, Françoise Giroud; more familiar but under-appreciated names such as Jacqueline Audry, the true “woman’s director” pioneer in France (still sadly overshadowed by Agnes Varda) whose adaptations of works by Colette deserve a Film Forum showcase just as much as the myth-encrusted oeuvre of the Nouvelle Vague.
“Auteures” is inclusive enough to admit some sympathetic males into its lineup in the form of directors Jean Gremillon (his thought-provoking L’AMOUR D’UNE FEMME, featuring Micheline Presle) and André Cayatte, whose “he said-she said” 1964 double feature LA VIE CONJUGALE (playing on closing night) might just be the biggest rediscovery in the series.
All in all, OTHER SIDE ‘24 is a fitting bookend to last year’s spring series, bringing us up to the 1960s in terms of French women in front and behind the camera. Jeanne Moreau is just the icing on the cake! Final details are being worked out and look for an official announcement of the schedule early in the new year.
In the meantime, please save the dates—March 30-31-April 1-2-3—and we’ll look forward to taking you on yet another singular journey into the seemingly endless riches of “the lost continent.”
My thanks to all those who’ve made these series possible over the years—particularly the loyal filmgoers who have brought so much interest and enthusiasm to our sometimes profligate, often wayward journey. Save those dates and look for updates early in the new year…so, until then: merci beaucoup et à bientot!