For those who haven't read my article THE BIG SIGH at Bright Lights Film Journal (you didn't think it was going to get featured in the NC e-zine, did ya?), the essay frames itself as an correction/expansion of a slightly larger "top list" (a total of twelve) offered by French academician Ginette Vincendeau in a 2019 essay published in SIGHT & SOUND. For purposes of comparing this to the list we'll shortly see from Soniya Hinduja, I've excerpted her list as it was presented and altered in THE BIG SIGH:
1932 La nuit du carrefour (Renoir)
1937 Pépé le moko (Duvivier)
1938 La bête humaine (Renoir)
1939 Le jour se lève (Carné)
1939 Le dernier tournant (Chenal)
1943 Le corbeau (Clouzot)
1947 Quai des Orfevres (Clouzot)
1949 Une si jolie petite plage (Allegret)
1954 Touchez pas au grisbi (Becker)
1955 Rififi (Dassin)
1956 Voici le temps des assassins (Duvivier)
1962 Le doulos (Melville)
This is Vincendeau's list of twelve; the ones shown in italics are the ones I removed from the list and then substituted eight films from what I've termed "the lost continent" of French noir that still remains hidden in semi-plain sight (getting plainer all the time, in fact, but still more like an iceberg awaiting its chance to scuttle the "titanic" party line about the history of film noir and the history of French cinema, both in need of some assiduous revision).
The eight films I added are as follows:
1941 L’assassinat de Pere Noel (Christian-Jaque)
1943 Voyage sans espoir (Christian-Jaque)
1947 Non coupable (Decoin)
1947 Les jeux sont faits (Delannoy)
1949 Les eaux troubles (Calef)
1949 Le silence de la mer (Melville)
1962 Leviathan (Keigel)
1963 Chair de poule (Duvivier)
Most of these remain unseen even by those with skin in the game, of course--unless you happened to attend the various incarnations of THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT at the Roxie Theatre (our tenth such festival will play there in late November/early December).
As you'll see from my list, I strongly follow Bertrand Tavernier's assessment of Melville's work, preferring his Bressonian side to his "American" side (though I don't actively dislike any of the heist films). Tavernier's favorite Melville film is LEON MORIN, PRETRE--which is not a noir at all, but something unique within his work that falls into the side that deals with the Occupation period (as is the case for SILENCE DE LA MER, one of the great achievements in the immediate post-WWII era, and--of course--ARMY OF SHADOWS).
So in THE BIG SIGH I combine the remnants of Vincendeau's list and my additions in order to tell a very capsule history of French film noir "as it should be" (instead of the muddled mess its history remains). A lot of good data there, and a set of sneaky references to other notable films for those who want to go deeper into "the lost continent."
So that brings us to Soniya Hinduja, whose MovieWeb list is the first such French noir effort I've seen in print since THE BIG SIGH was published in late 2020. Here's her list:
1937 Pépé le Moko (Duvivier)
1938 Quai des Brumes (Carné)
1946 Panique (Duvivier)
1952 Casque d'Or (Becker)
1955 Rififi (Dassin)
1960 Plein Soleil (Clément)
1962 Le Septième Juré (Lautner)
1965 Compartiment Tueurs (Costa-Gavras)
1967 Le Samourai (Melville)
1972 Un Flic (Melville)
One would surmise from this list that Hinduja has not seen much from the 30s other than poetic realist films, and that she's not been exposed to anything of the immediate post-WWII era aside from PANIQUE, which was the last film to get "the Rialto treatment" and thus anointed into the canon as seen by Americans. (As I argue in THE BIG SIGH, while PANIQUE is a solid rendition of Simenon, Michel Simon is much more astonishing in NON COUPABLE the following year, making for one of the most harrowing "progression to fugue state" noirs ever made.)
QUAI DES BRUMES is a fine film, but adding it along with PEPE LE MOKO and LE JOUR SE LEVE is overkill, even for Gabin. (Remember, we have GRISBI and VOICI LE TEMPS DES ASSASSINS on the list as well.)
CASQUE D'OR is a fine period noir, and keeps Jacques Becker on the list (since she omits GRISBI, the film that kicked off the French "heist" cycle), but it's not quite a landmark; the best Becker noir might just be LE TROU, anyway.
PLEIN SOLEIL is enjoyable, but Delon is actually a bit wan as Tom Ripley; he's noticeably better in LE SAMOURAI and LE CERCLE ROUGE, and a list of ten really shouldn't have three of his films on it.
The next two films--LE SEPTIEME JURE and COMPARTIMENT TUEURS--are the ones that show some impact from MCP's efforts, as these two were first "re-showcased" at FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT. I'd argue for the former as being worthy for the list, but I wouldn't elevate COMPARTIMENT TUEURS despite its flashy enjoyability and its big-name case.
UN FLIC is really kind of a cold mess (as opposed to the hot variety...) and is more evidence that later Melville films (beginning with L'AINE DE FERCHAUX) seem to induce trance-like states in a sizable sub-class of viewers, who then apparently mistake that for a highly evolved cinematic style. LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE is somewhat immune to this syndrome due to the intense presence of Lino Ventura, and it's the last Melville film that should be considered "noir" (as oppposed to "neo-noir," which is a much more accurate category for his last three efforts).
So if we were going up to twenty titles from the sixteen I packaged together from my reworking of Vincendeau's list, which would I add at this point? I'd give Becker more of a nod for his variety within noir, and add CASQUE D'OR for its stretching of the genre (in spite of what I said above), along with LE TROU (best prison film of its time). I'd add LE SEPTIEME JURE, which would get us to nineteen, and I'd be thinking long and hard between a dozen films not on any of these lists for the twentieth. That might make for an interesting followup essay at BRIGHT LIGHTS, in fact--but not until we get through the next FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT festival, which will screen three or four of the candidate films I have scrupulously avoided mentioning. (It's going to be a really good festival, folks; you Bay Area folk who've been staying away for whatever set of reasons should really come out this time--really!)