La Bête Humaine - (Jean Renoir, France, 1938)
More catching up with Papa Renoir. A striking, powerful variation on several noir themes (the femme fatale, the twinning of adultery and murder, and more broadly, sex and violence, skepticism if not dread of modernity and industrialization, etc.) Elegant, yet simmering with appropriately animalistic menace. The scene in which Jean Gabin's Jacques encounters Blanchette Brunoy's Flore, after she has just shoved an ogling farmboy into the river, is mastery exemplified. The scene starts out bucolic, with a healthy dash of pastoral eroticism, and then moves into surprisingly dark, violent territory, as Jacques, seized with a mysterious "fit" that seems to fuse lust and murderous aggression, nearly strangles the young woman, only stopping when he's brought to his senses by the rush of the oncoming train, which passes by only feet away from where he is attacking Flore. Jacques as the tragedy of modern man: alienated from humanity, he retreats to the impersonal din and granduer of industry. His love for trains as a way to bind his murderous energies to something that can resist or subsume them. Also contains some of Renoir's incisive commentary on social mores, and some fantastic views of the Gare St. Lazare, including one that could be Manet's view from his studio at the time of his painting Le Chemin de Fer.
Bob le Flambeur - (Jean-Pierre Melville, France, 1956)
Delicious stuff. Perfectly atmospheric, combining postwar anxieties and nostalgia with crackerjack plotting and swift, sharp characterizations. Breezy fun that still has serious heft. Glad I finally caught this classic. The introduction, from the gritty streets of Montmarte at dawn, to the introduction to Bob, as panache personified, even sleep-deprived in his seedy, checkered lair of iniquity, is simply sublime.
Monsieur Verdoux - (Charlie Chaplin, USA, 1947)
Chaplin can do no wrong. Hilarious, deft, his performance as dextrous as his handling of the story, which manages to remain piquant despite its sordid subject matter, until Chaplin reveals his political hand, at which point, the mood gets surprisingly grave, and we find ourselves in an odd parable about human depravity. While the concluding portion of the film could be critiqued for being heavy-handed, it's elevated by the brilliant nuance Chaplin brings to his portrayal of Verdoux, who, despite being a wholly self-righteous serial killer, seems also to be one of the few civilized men left in Europe.