Monday and More Moreau.
Our final night begins with L’ETRANGE MONSEIUR STEVE (Raymond Bailly 1957). Georges (Philippe Lemaire) is a young man working in a dead-end bank job sitting across a desk from his fiancée who seems a bit more eager for marriage than he does. Georges has a happenstance meeting with M. Steve (Armand Mestral), who appears to take a liking to Georges. M. Steve is leader of a gang of bank robbers (with Lino Ventura as the enforcer). Georges is perfectly situated for a nice robbery. And the allure of the money, not to mention the allure of M. Steve’s mistress, the seductive Florence (Jeanne Moreau), sucks in Georges.
The more Georges is seduced by Florence and the more he is seduced by money, the more his character transforms from innocence to guilt. He must, however, decide what is most important to him: love, money, or innocence. Of course, Florence’s priorities among that trinity may also play a role.
Witnessing Lemaire’s character transition is a major attraction, as is the major catalyst for that transition, Moreau. It is all nicely presented by cinematographer Jacques Lemare, who went on to work primarily in television, but who previously was the cinematographer on POISON IVY (Bernard Borderie 1953) aka Eddie Constantine’s first portrayal of Lemmy Caution, NON COUPABLE (Henri Decoin 1947), which appeared in “The French Had A Name For It 3”, and LA REGLE DU JEU (Jean Renoir 1939).
We close with MADEMOISELLE (Tony Richardson 1966). Not exactly the feel-good movie of 1966. Don considers this the end of film noir.
Cruelty. It is about Cruelty. Not about Cruelty a la Anthony Mann’s “man in agony”. Not about Cruelty as the result of revenge, or as a way to cause the demise of an antagonist, or as the way toward redemption of a protagonist. No. It is about Cruelty. Through Cruelty. And Obsession. And Repression. A story by Jean Genet is a tip-off.
Jeanne Moreau. Ste. Jeanne in a work by St. Genet. Plus Marguerite Duras.
Moreau opens a sluice. It drowns, or nearly drowns, the farm animals in her village. Moreau sees a nesting quail in the meadow. Moreau picks up the eggs and crushes them. Moreau lights a match. It burns a barn full of animals. Moreau walks by an apple tree in bloom. Moreau stops, smells the blooms, takes her cigarette and burns the buds. Moreau lights a match. It burns a barn full of animals and a house with a man inside. Moreau puts arsenic in the common village trough for the farm animals. The animals die.
Moreau is the village schoolteacher. The villagers adore Moreau. Moreau humiliates and punishes one of her students repeatedly. He is the son of a handsome immigrant Italian itinerant worker and widower. The village women lust after the worker. The men suspect him as the perpetrator of the mayhem. He is the hero in each of the village disasters, saving animals and people. That makes him even more attractive to the women. That makes even more The Other to the men.
Moreau and the worker happen to cross paths in the forest. There is a night of passion in the rain. And there is resolution. It is not uplifting.
Obsession and repressed passion as love…or what may pass for love in the noir universe.
Richardson (with cinematographer David Watkin) captures it all, from painfully extended and beautiful long shots where an individual is merely a dot to close-ups such as Moreau watching a fire from her room, her eyes black with the reflection of the blaze being her pupils. Moreau’s eyes throughout the film…a look of fatal nothingness.
The last film noir? Could be. Not necessarily the last film noir ever made, but what follows falls back on what has preceded it. Violence and perverse cruelty have always been aspects of film noir. MADEMOISELLE pushes them to center stage and makes them the focal point. One step farther and we are in the realm of giallo, gore and slasher.
A fitting conclusion, with an exclamation point, to a long weekend of Despair, Delirium and Destiny, and to another stupendous exploration of French film noir.