One undercurrent of the festival was a proposition by the programmer that audiences would get beyond the notion of the "anointed" film via exposure to a series of other, much lesser-known works made in roughly the same time frame and with similar themes. The two acknowledged classics, ODD MAN OUT (1947, UK) and BITTER RICE (1949, Italy) were received with great respect...but they did not dominate or overshadow the rare films that accompanied them.
Interesting--and most gratifying--was the high audience regard for the Belgian "arthouse noir" SEAGULLS ARE DYING IN THE HARBOR (1955), a beautiful, brooding film with a unique combination of visual and narrative logic. It was wonderful to watch the audience engage with this film for the first time, giving it its full chance to dig under the viewer's skin as its indelible locations (in and around midcentury Antwerp) worked to maximum advantage in delivering a poignant tale of loneliness and isolation. It was another indication that the collective experience of a film viewed on a large screen will evoke the full power of the cinematic experience and confer it on an audience.
The rough order of preference, based on a series of informal surveys with an ongoing subset of the festival audience, is as follows:
Seagulls Are Dying in the Harbor
Cash Calls Hell
Odd Man Out
In the Name of the Law
Camino del Infierno
Audience response indicated that they are most moved and involved by stories whose plots reveal character nuances as they play out. Some films do this transcendently (SEAGULLS), others do it thanks to expertly crafted character through lines (CASH CALLS, IN THE NAME OF THE LAW), while others use ensemble narrative and highly accomplished cinematography to fully exploit their location setting and achieve a visual rhythm (ODD MAN OUT, BITTER RICE).
The two films in the series that provided the least of this narrative interplay--STRANGE ENCOUNTER and PETLA--did not rise to the same level of audience regard. PETLA, a beautifully filmed and courageously acted story of a man in the final throes of fighting alcohol addiction, just doesn't provide enough story elements for the audience to fully engage with the protagonist. As such, its grimness winds up overpowering everything else.
Overall, the films in RARE NOIR 2 graded out in the range g 8.5-8.75/10. Requests for re-screening of rare films (SEAGULLS, CASH CALLS, CAIRO STATION, IN THE NAME OF THE LAW, KRAKATIT) definitely indicate that the programmer was onto something in his "flail around the world" approach. Don't be surprised to see a subsequent RARE NOIR series with these five along with the best from the earlier RARE NOIR show in a "best of" engagement that will also showcase 4-6 more rare noir treasures from around the world.