Rififi is considered by many the ultimate heist film.
The Eighth Annual Classic French Film Festival will be held in St. Louis March 4 through March 20. The films presented span the decades from the 1920s through the 1990s, and every film will include an introduction and post-film discussion by a critic or film scholar.
Army of Shadows (L’armé des ombres; 3/4, 7:30 p.m., projected from Blu-ray) stars Simone Signoret, Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, and Jean-Pierre Cassel as resistance fighters in Vichy France. Perhaps because director Jean-Pierre Melville served in both the Resistance and the Free French Army, his resistance fighters do not live in the sunlit world of glorious triumphs typical of American war movies but lead a shadowy, uncertain existence more akin to that of the protagonists of Melville’s gangster films. Originally released in France in 1969, Jean-Pierre Melville’s film was not shown in the American theatres until 2006, when it was greeted with critical acclaim. Pier Marton, a video artist and teacher, will present an introduction and lead a post-film discussion.
Louis Malle’s 1957 Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud; 3/5, 7:30 p.m., projected from 35mm) stars Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as lovers who plan what they believe is the perfect crime to murder Moreau’s wealthy industrialist husband. Malle’s first film features a score by Miles Davis and cinematography Henri Decaë and is considered a key work of Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) cinema. Renee Hirschfield, an adjunct professor of film studies at Southwestern Illinois College, will introduce the film and lead a post-film discussion.
From Mayerling to Sarajevo (De Mayerling à Sarajevo; 3/6, 7:00 p.m., projected from 35mm), which premiered in 1940, offers a take on the origins of World War I that’s probably not the way you learned it in history class. Director Max Ophüls finds the roots of WWI in the 1889 Mayerling Incident, when the murder-suicide (or double suicide) of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his lover, Mary Vetsera. One result of this tragedy was that Karl Ludwig, brother of Emperor Franz Joseph, was promoted to Crown Prince, and his son, Franz Ferdinand became heir-presumptive of Austria-Hungary. Robert Garrick, a board member of Les Amis, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the French heritage of the mid-Mississippi River Valley, will introduce the film and lead a post-film discussion.
The most recent film in the festival, Hate (La haine; 3/11, 7:30 p.m.; projected from Blu-ray), stars Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui as residents of the banlieu districts of Paris, where many of the city’s low-income and immigrant residents live. Director Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film follows their characters (one Jewish, one African, and one Arabic) over the 24 hours following a riot sparked by police mistreatment. Hate won Best Director at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic Calvin Wilson will introduce the film, and the post-film discussion will be led by Wilson, Webster University professor Lionel Cuillé, and Saint Louis University professor Jean-Louis Pautrot.
Out 1: Spectre (3/12, 5:00 p.m., projected from Blu-ray) may be the most unusual film of the festival, and at 246 minutes is certainly the longest. Directed by the recently-deceased Jacques Rivette, this script-free film follows a young man played by The 400 Blows’ Jean-Pierre Léaud on a quest sparked by his receipt of a series of anonymous notes. Out 1: Spectre was influenced by many sources, including Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” and Balac’s La Comédie humaine, and will be shown in a 2K restoration supervised by Pierre-William Glenn. Film critic Robert Hunt will introduce the film and lead a post-film discussion.
La Cage aux Folles (3/13, 4:00 p.m., projected from Blu-ray), was adapted from a 1973 play and, in turn, provided the source material for both the stage musical of the same name and the English-language remake The Birdcage starring Robin Williams. Eduoard Molinaro’s 1978 film stars Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault as Renato and Albin, the manager and star, respectively, of a drag club in the coastal resort town of Saint-Tropez. Renato has a son who is courting the daughter of a conservative couple, and when the future in-laws come to dinner, hilarity ensues. Film critic Cate Marquis will introduce the film and lead a post-film discussion.
A Married Woman (Une femme mariée; 3/13, 7:00 p.m., projected from Blu-ray), Jean-Luc Godard’s eighth film, was once banned in France due to its salacious treatment of female sexuality (the official reason) and/or its political views and discussion of the Holocaust (Godard’s view). Mancha Méril plays a woman who wants to divorce her husband (Philippe Leroy) and marry her lover (Bernard Noël), then finds that life has more twists and turns than she expected. Cliff Froehlich, executive director of Cinema St. Louis and an adjunct professor at Webster University, will introduce the film and lead the post-film discussion.
Diaboliques (Les diaboliques; 3/18, 7:30 p.m., projected from Blu-ray) is widely regarded as one of the most terrifying films of all time (Alfred Hitchcock attempted to attain the rights to the source material, but director Henri-Georges Clouzot beat him to it). Diabolique stars Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot as teachers in a mediocre French boarding school who make plans to kill Clouzot’s husband and run off together. As Psycho may have turned some people off taking showers, Diabolique may get you to think twice before using a different bathroom fixture. Webster University professor Kathy Corley will introduce the film and lead the post-film discussion.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (La passion de Jeanne d’Arc; 3/19, 7:30 p.m., projected from DVD), directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, is often cited as one of the greatest films of the silent era. Featuring stage actress Renée Falconetti in the title role, Dreyer’s film is particularly notable for her performance and for the film’s cinematography and production: it is constructed largely of close-ups and was filmed on a single concrete set representing the prison where Joan of Arc was imprisoned before her execution. The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra will provide live accompaniment for this film and it will be introduced by film critic Andrew Wyatt, who will also lead the post-film discussion.
Rififi (3/20, 7:00 p.m., projected from Blu-ray) is considered by many the ultimate heist film. It portrays a robbery in painstaking detail (and in a way that would not have been permitted by American censors in 1955), from putting together the team to actually executing the crime (a dialogue-free sequence lasting nearly 30 minutes). American director Jules Dassin, forced out of Hollywood by the blacklist, won the Best Director prize at Cannes for this film. Film scholar Diane Carson will introduce the film and lead the post-film discussion. | Sarah Boslaugh