Pépé le Moko

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.

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