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.