May 20 – 30, 1999

Storybook Rituals: The Films of         JACQUES BECKER
Presented in Association with the

French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French Film & Television Office in Los Angeles (French Consulate)


"Before us, the only person who really tried to see France was Jacques Becker, and he did so by filming fashion houses and gangsters." – Jean-Luc Godard

 

Series compiled by Dennis Bartok, Gwen Deglise and Chris D.

Special Thanks to: Martine Boutrolle and Janine Deunf/FRENCH MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS; Francois Truffart/FRENCH CONSULATE IN LOS ANGELES; Dominique Brunet/CANAL + IMAGE; Rosine Handelman/GAUMONT; Nicole Jouve/INTERAMA; Bryony Dixon/BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE; Scott Kennedy/ KIT PARKER FILMS. Also our acknoledgement of critic Philip Kemp for his excellent study of Becker’s work in the recent FILM COMMENT.

 

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Like the outlaw heroes of his masterpieces LE TROU and TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, French director Jacques Becker was a true pro – silent, unobtrusive, with a stunning eye for small detail and the grand design. "What I find interesting are personalities," Becker once observed -- and his films delight in the ordinary human emotions and domestic rituals of his often-extraordinary characters. 

Born in 1906 of upper class French/Scottish parents, Becker began his film career as assistant to Jean Renoir in the 1930s on BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING and LA MARSEILLAISE. Starting in the early 1940s, Becker came into his own as a director – moving with transparent ease from intimate dramas (EDOUARD ET CAROLINE) to tragic romance (CASQUE D’OR) to crime films (GRISBI, LE TROU). And like his films, Becker left an indelible mark on those who knew him:  Simone Signoret said working with him was akin to "being in a state of grace," while his friend and colleague Jean-Pierre Melville could only exclaim "Wonderful Becker -- ! "

Becker died in 1960 during post-production on his masterpiece, LE TROU. Sadly, Becker and his films have remained criminally-unknown in the U.S. – this series is the first major L.A. retrospective of his work ever mounted, and features 9 of his finest films.

Thursday, May 20 – 7:00 PM

France’s Greatest Crime Film !!

TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, 1954, 88 min . Aging gangster Jean Gabin is sitting on a fortune in gold from a perfect heist – but sleazeball Lino Ventura decides he wants in on the action, with the help of a double-crossing chorus girl, Jeanne Moreau. This exquisite noir was passed over by the Cannes Film Festival because "it gave the wrong idea of French cinema" – it went on to become a huge hit and inspired a wave of crack crime films like BOB LE FLAMBEUR and RIFIFI.

 

Thursday, May 20 – 9:15 PM

Brand-New 35mm Print!!

CASQUE D’OR (GOLDEN MARIE), 1952, Canal + Image, 96 min. Becker’s romantic masterpiece is a simultaneously heartbreaking adult fairy tale and impressionist rendering of the turn-of-the-century Parisian apache underworld. The fleeting moments of shared love and erotic passion between Serge Reggiani and Simone Signoret are genuine poetry – moments cut short by the jealous machinations of others. Violent death follows inexorably, replacing the aroma of coffee-and-just-made-love with the smell of blood in one of the most bittersweet climaxes in French cinema.

 

Saturday, May 22 – 6:30 PM

Saturday, May 29 – 6:30 PM

Becker’s Masterpiece!!

LE TROU (THE HOLE) , 1960, Kit Parker Films, 115 min. Becker’s final film, LE TROU is a flawless piece of suspense – meticulous, absolute, seemingly carved out of pure granite. Four hardened crooks are planning a break from the notorious La Sante prison, when a fifth jailbird (baby-faced Marc Michel) is thrown into their cell, upsetting their plans. Writer Jose Giovanni was an actual ex-con who participated in an escape attempt from La Sante in 1947; one of his cellmates, Jean Keraudy, the infamous "King of Escapes," stars as himself in the film. "There is only one goal for those five characters and only one way to reach it – they walk towards freedom as Becker walks towards poetry" -- François Truffaut.

 

Saturday, May 22 – 9:15 PM

Ultra-Rare 35mm Print!!

RENDEZ-VOUS DE JUILLET (RENDEZ-VOUS IN JULY), 1949, Gaumont, 95 min. Deep in the smoky Left Bank jazz clubs of the late forties, Becker evokes an artistic netherworld rife with life’s pleasures and possibilities. However Daniel Gelin is no angst-ridden drop-out, but a talented, self-possessed young man. His plight of being cut off without a sou by his intolerant father was inspired by the director’s father (who tried to push him into an engineering career). Becker observes with equal parts compassion and deadpan humor the very roots of repressive parental authority.

 

 

Friday, May 28 – 7:00 PM

ANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE, 1947, 115 min. One of Becker’s most delicately-observed dramas, ANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE focuses on a young bookbinder (Roger Pigaut) and his wife, who lose their one chance at freedom: a winning lottery ticket. Becker examines the urban working-class with both humorous detachment and affection, creating a whole world of lived-in detail. "Becker shares with Chekhov an acute sense of transience, of the poignancy of time passing and elusive chances slipping away. " -- Philip Kemp, FILM COMMENT.

 

Friday, May 28 - 9:30 PM

EDOUARD ET CAROLINE, 1951, Canal + Image, 85 min. Another marvelous portrait of a young couple struggling to find their way, EDOUARD ET CAROLINE takes a delightfully dry look at the Parisian bourgeoisie – where talented musician Daniel Gelin and wife Anne Vernon are trying to keep their heads above water. When Vernon accidentally rips the hem of her gown, it threatens her husband’s chance of playing at an all-important party – setting off a dazzling domino effect of gossip and petty jealousy, choreographed by Becker with a master’s hand. A small, perfect gem.

Saturday, May 29 – 9:15 PM

MODIGLIANI – MONTPARNASSE 19, 1957, Interama, 120 min. With Anouk Aimee, Lili Palmer. Becker took over helming this gorgeous elegiac bio of the famed painter’s last months when original director Max Ophuls died just before shooting could begin. Gerard Philipe – often referred to as the French James Dean (he died of cancer at age 37) – imbues an added poignancy to his portrayal of the doomed genius Modigliani. "Becker unleashes a torrent of feelings not just about one artist, but about the cosmic injustice of human vultures feeding on the flesh and blood of creative artists just slightly ahead of their time." -- Andrew Sarris, N.Y. OBSERVER.

 

Sunday, May 30 – 4:00 PM

LE DERNIER ATOUT (THE LAST ACE IN THE DECK) 1942, Canal + Image, 105 min. With Raymond Rouleau, Georges Rollin. As if he wasn’t hamstrung enough by a Nazi Occupation looming over his shoulder, the ambitious Becker sets his first film, an atmospheric crime saga, in South America! Two police academy students are thrown into deep water when they decide to investigate a criminal’s death - complicating matters is their arch-rival’s kid-sister who wants to help. Amazingly, the novice Becker is already a maestro and pullsit off.

 

Sunday, May 30 – 6:30 PM

GOUPI MAIN ROUGES (IT HAPPENED AT THE INN), 1943, 100 min. Georges Rollin, a foppish, somewhat absurd young man returning home to his peasant country roots after a long sojourn, is at first ridiculed, then framed for murder by members of his own family. Through the growing affection and trust of his beautiful young cousin, he’s given a solid footing of self-confidence – and able to turn the tables on his accusers. Although Becker was from the upper class, GOUPI author Pierre Very lauded him, saying: "You didn’t know a peasant from Adam. But when I took you to my house…you saw. So many people think they see, but see nothing."