Pépé le Moko

Gaby, Pépé and Slimane

One of the great French “poetic realist” movies of the 1930s, Pépé le Moko is also a chance to see Jean Gabin at Peak Gabin, as the much-admired, much-feared man all men want to be and all women want to be with – as the saying goes. He’s a good bad guy, a kind of Robin Hood, but whereas Robin was happy in Sherwood Forest, Pépé is beginning to bridle at his confinement in French colonial Algiers, in the Casbah, the ramshackle part of town that’s a no-go area for the colonial authorities, who badly want Pépé but can’t touch him while he’s on his turf. Homesick Pépé’s yearning for the sights, sounds … Read more

Le Jour Se Lève

Françoise and François embrace

Le Jour Sè Leve is a prime example of a film in the doom-flecked “poetic realist” style which flourished in France before the Second World War and we’re lucky to have it at all. When RKO set out to remake it in 1947, as The Long Night, they bought up and destroyed all the prints they could find. But not all of them, obviously, because here we are. It didn’t go too well for the remake (the New York Times described the 1936 French original as “in every respect superior to this new job”) even with Henry Fonda in the key role, as the murderer reflecting alone in his room as night gradually … Read more

The Sicilian Clan

Lino Ventura, Jean Gabin, Alain Delon

The golden age of hijacking (1968-1972) was just peaking in 1969 when The Sicilian Clan (Le Clan des Siciliens) debuted, a French heist movie itself hijacked – twice! – by a plot involving the illegal commandeering of a plane and by a superannuated screen star who really shouldn’t be in it. It’s really, at bottom, one of those heist movies in which security cameras, pressure sensors, alarms, iron bars, motion sensors and all the modern security paraphernalia have to be overcome by a gang smart and greedy enough to have a go. And that looks to be exactly what we’re getting as first our main guy, Roger Sartet (Alain Delon), is introduced, a … Read more

La Bête Humaine

Jean Gabin and Simone Simon

In Emile Zola’s story La Bête Humaine, the “human beast” is train driver Jacques Lantier, a man whose family line is full of fuck-ups, alcoholics and brutes. He keeps his passions in check, just about, by focusing rigidly on his job, and in particular on his locomotive, which he calls by the female name Lison. There’s an intertitle card telling us all this at the start of Jean Renoir’s brilliant 1938 adaptation of the story. However, the “beast” of Renoir’s version might actually not be Lantier at all. Instead it could be Séverine, the lusty wife of a plodding stationmaster in Le Havre, where Lantier is forced to spend some time when his … Read more

La Grande Illusion

Erich Von Stroheim in La Grande Illusion

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 11 November First World War ends, 1914 On this day in 1914, hostilities officially ceased on the Western Front (which ran through Belgium, north-eastern France and Alsace-Lorraine – then German, now French), effective 11am. Though the First World War is often described as a victory of the allied powers, officially the result was a draw – the fighting between all concerned was simply called off. Though of course Germany had been beaten and in the Peace of Versailles, the Treaty arranged shortly afterwards, the looseness of this technical distinction became clear – Germany lost territory, its navy, most of its army … Read more