Pépé le Moko

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A part of this view­ing listCriterion 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.

Black Orpheus

Monday, 8 October 2012

A part of this view­ing listCriterion 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.