A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #172: Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko.
The strange start of this film — all the time spent describing the cosmopolitan mélange of the Algerian casbah travelogue-style — is the key to understanding what’s happening inside the typically clever head of notorious jewel-thief Pépé le Moko. The man is an archetypal old-school gangster, and he is so secure in the riot of the casbah that even the Algerian inspector has a friendly rivalrous relationship with him.
For a man of his magnitude, however, even being lord of a microcosmic world is not enough. When he falls for a French kept woman, he is reminded of all the things he has chosen to leave behind. The inspector uses this knowledge to his benefit, bides his time, participates in some carefully planned misdirection, and ultimately nabs his man when he leaves the casbah in love-lorn-and-lost pursuit of what he has thrown away. In the end, he realizes that even a prison of his own choosing is still a prison. Too late.
Though this fits the style of noir, I don’t know that it fits the technical definition. There’s plenty of chiaroscuro, and the subject matter fits the bill as well, but thematically there’s less grit and grey-morality than most other examples of the genre.
Jean Gabin is a great rascal.
A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #48: Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus.
I tried watching this many years ago, but wasn’t in the right frame of mind to get through it. I’m glad I gave it another shot, because it’s a wonderful movie. The myth of Orpheus & Eurydice is my favorite, and it translates perfectly to Rio during Carnaval. Orpheus as the Babylon bus driver, good with the ladies, the man who makes the sun rise with his guitar playing. Eurydice, new to the city, seemingly innocent, but with something dark on her tail. Not only does the setting translate well, but the death-revenant-afterlife fits thematically with the Candomble religious practices as well.
Throughout the film, gestures and acts that would normally be passed off as simple superstition pack a bit more mythic punch, and, as it turns out, are just as efficacious diegetically. Promises and claims that, in the mundane world, would just appear to be bluster, are true tragedy as the myth unfolds. This mixing of natural and supernatural is made possible by the nearly incessant beat of music that permeates the film.
The film is so well put together, and the parallels with Brazilian culture so spot on that it would make more sense if the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice had actually originated from Brazil and not Greece. And it makes you want to dance.