January 4 - 31
"Becker saw like no other filmmaker. He created entire worlds from the smallest details."--Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice
From January 4 to 31, the Gene Siskel Film Center, in collaboration with the Institut Français and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, presents ten films by Jacques Becker, an important yet neglected director whose career forms a bridge between French cinema’s Golden Age of the 1930s and its New Wave of the 1960s.
Becker (1906-60) began his film career as assistant to Jean Renoir on eight films from Renoir’s 1930s heyday, including BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING, A DAY IN THE COUNTRY, and GRAND ILLUSION. The term assistant director does not do justice to Becker’s importance as Renoir’s closest friend and collaborator during this great period. He was a key figure in swaying Renoir in the leftist direction that characterizes his thirties films. Becker intended to direct the Popular Front masterpiece THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE (1936) until it was taken over by Renoir. A strong sense of class consciousness would inform nearly all of the films Becker later directed.
Another attempt to direct was interrupted by the war. After spending two years in a prison camp, Becker finally made his first feature film, the crime thriller DERNIER ATOUT, in 1942. He began to attract serious critical attention with his next film, the caustic rural drama IT HAPPENED AT THE INN (1943). After the war, Becker consolidated his reputation with ANTOINE AND ANTOINETTE (1946), the first in a series of light romances filled with casual observations about Parisian life.
In 1952 he directed the grand tragic romance CASQUE D’OR, which made a star of Simone Signoret and became Becker’s most celebrated film. For the rest of his career Becker moved easily from genre to genre, including crime (TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI), melodrama (RUE DE L’ESTRAPADE), Fernandel vehicle (ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES), and biopic (THE LOVERS OF MONTPARNASSE). He died at age 54, just after completing the prison-escape drama LE TROU, his last and, in the opinion of many, finest film.
Becker was one of the few veteran filmmakers championed by the rising Young Turks of the French New Wave, who lauded his genius for digression, his preference for moment-to-moment realism over a dominant plot line, and his ability to burrow into the world of a film no matter how slight or generic its story. François Truffaut, an especially devoted admirer, wrote, “It is not so much his choice of subject that distinguishes Becker as it is his treatment, and the scenes he selects to illustrate it… He will skimp over what another director would treat most seriously in order to linger over the characters eating breakfast, buttering a roll, brushing their teeth.”
Becker’s directorial temperament is that of an observer. This does not mean that he is neutral or detached but that, rather than imposing a predetermined scheme on the film, he allows its truth to emerge from an accumulation of countless small impressions and observations that illuminate the characters and their social milieu. Even when ostensibly focused on an individual, as in FALBALAS, or on a couple, as in ANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE, Becker’s richly centrifugal style sweeps out to capture the wealth of life around them, and the social relations that shape that life. Becker said, “I hate leaving people in a vacuum; in my view nothing is more false. I cannot conceive a character without worrying about the manner in which he lives, his social contacts, whatever class he may belong to.”
Special thanks to Eric Di Bernardo, Rialto Pictures; Amélie Garin-Davet and Laurence Geannopulos, Cultural Services of the French Embassy.
-- Martin Rubin
SATURDAY DOUBLE-BILL DISCOUNT! Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first Becker film on any Saturday in January, and get a ticket for the second Becker film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)
It Happened at the Inn
Goupi mains rouges
1943, Jacques Becker, France, 104 min.
"Becker gave French cinema its greatest film about rural France.”--Bernard Eisenschitz, Il Cinema Ritrovato
In Becker's first major film, a not-as-dumb-as-he-seems city lad arrives in a provincial
backwater where he finds himself embroiled with a murder, a hidden treasure, and the
warring factions of a most peculiar family. Part mystery story, part black comedy,
part Balzacian social canvas, part satire of country-city conflicts, INN is at all times a
ripping good yarn, laced with irony and vivid characterizations. In French with
English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of the Institut Français; thanks to the Cultural
Services of the French Embassy. (MR)
Rendezvous in July
Rendez-vous en juillet
1949, Jacques Becker, France, 99 min.
"Superabundant in charm, wit and soul."--Glenn Kenny, The New York Times
No film better captures the ferment of postwar Paris, a youthful outburst of pent-up
ambition, idealism, and artistic and sexual exploration, hatched in sidewalk cafés,
smoky Latin Quarter dives, and bohemian apartments. This high-spirited comedy-
drama centers on a quintet of twentyish Parisians, variously interconnected by blood,
love, friendship, and artistic interests: Julien (Daniel Gélin), an aspiring ethnographic
filmmaker; his best friend Roger (Maurice Ronet), an unemployed cinematographer
moonlighting as a jazz trumpeter; Roger's girlfriend Thérèse, a talented actress;
Julien's girlfriend Christine, an untalented actress who uses sex to get ahead; and her
brother François, an aspiring playwright with designs on Thérèse. In French with
English subtitles. New 2K DCP digital restoration. (MR)
Touchez pas au grisbi
Hands Off the Loot!
1953, Jacques Becker, France, 94 min.
"Becker's finest film...a significant influence on subsequent French crime classics such
as RIFIFI and BOB LE FLAMBEUR."--David Parkinson, Sight and Sound
One of Becker’s most admired films, TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (“Hands Off the
Loot!”) set the template for RIFIFI, BOB LE FLAMBEUR, LE SAMOURÄI, and
other tough French noirs of the 1950s and 1960s. Two aging crooks (Jean Gabin, René
Dary) plan a spectacular gold heist at Orly Airport, but their plans are complicated by
a brutal rival (Lino Ventura) and an unreliable girlfriend (Jeanne Moreau). Becker’s
originality was to treat criminals like ordinary human beings, observing their habits
and quiet moments, and the result is not only an exciting crime thriller but also a
moving meditation on friendship and growing old. In French with English subtitles.
New 2K DCP digital restoration. (MR)
Édouard and Caroline
Édouard et Caroline
1952, Jacques Becker, France, 92 min.
"An effervescent delight...It also contains some very ugly moments, all the more
uncomfortable because they are smuggled in among so much charm and so many belly
laughs, which come largely courtesy of Vernon, an inspired and natural comic actress
who also happens to be a radiant beauty."--Imogen Sara Smith, Film Comment
A sparkling comedy with troubling undertones, ÉDOUARD AND CAROLINE harks
back to the screwball classics of the 1930s and looks forward to the French New Wave
of the 1960s (Godard's A WOMAN IS A WOMAN seems especially indebted to it).
The marital squabbling of the opening scenes, though highly amusing, reveals the
tensions in Édouard and Caroline's marriage: he's a talented pianist frustrated by lack
of success and resentful of her upper-class roots. A party at the mansion of Caroline's
snobbish uncle, designed to show off Édouard's talent to wealthy potential patrons,
brings those tensions to a head, abetted by a missing waistcoat, an altered dress, a
lecherous cousin, and Édouard's petulance. Anne Vernon, little known in the U.S.
outside of her role as Catherine Deneuve's mother in THE UMBRELLAS OF
CHERBOURG, is a revelation as Caroline--vivacious, mischievous, and charming, but
capable of hitting back when necessary. In French with English subtitles. DCP
The Lovers of Montparnasse
Les amants de Montparnasse
1958, Jacques Becker, France, 108 min.
“An outpouring of passionate and flamboyant style, a furious cinematic revolt against
restraint."--Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Prepared by the fatally ill Max Ophuls, the film was taken over by Becker, who rewrote the script to accommodate his customary emphases on character and setting. It details the final years of the Italian-born unappreciated genius Amedeo Modigliani (Gérard Philipe) as he struggles to survive in Paris, wracked by drug addiction and alcoholism, enabled by his British lover (Lilli Palmer), accompanied by a loyal rich girl (Anouk Aimée), and stalked by a predatory art dealer (Lino Ventura). In French with English subtitles. DCP courtesy of the Institut Français; thanks to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. (MR)
Rue de l'Estrapade
1953, Jacques Becker, France, 100 min.
RUE DE L’ESTRAPADE is the last in a series of Becker romances (including ANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE, RENDEZ-VOUS DE JUILLET, and EDOUARD ET CAROLINE) notable for their delicate mixture of comedy and melodrama and their feel for Parisian life. When a young wife (Anne Vernon) discovers that her racecar-driver husband (Louis Jourdan) has cheated on her, she moves into the Latin Quarter, where she meets a seductive musician (Daniel Gélin). Godard called it “splendid.” In French with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of the Institut Français; thanks to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. (MR)
Antoine and Antoinette
Antoine et Antoinette
1947, Jacques Becker, France, 84 min.
“A delightful, ebullient romantic comedy with subtle social underpinnings.”--Scott
Tobias, The A.V. Club
He’s a printing-press worker who dreams of owning a motorcycle, she’s a shop girl
whose vivaciousness is a magnet for wolves. One of the cinema’s most romantic
portraits of married life, ANTOINE AND ANTOINETTE vividly establishes the
attractive young couple’s connubial bliss, then puts it to the test via a lecherous grocer
and a lost lottery ticket. This casually revolutionary film looks forward to the New
Wave with its fluid, in-the-streets camerawork and its freewheeling directorial
flourishes. Lingering on peripheral characters and incidents, Becker’s centrifugal
style weaves a rich tapestry of everyday life around the slight but engaging story. In
French with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)
1960, Jacques Becker, France, 131 min.
"Becker’s best film… In LE TROU there is nothing but the exact look, the alive moment."--François Truffaut
Tough and haunting, Becker’s final film is a stirring tale of friendship, a gripping suspense drama, a subtle critique of totalitarianism, and a hymn to the textures of iron and stone. Based on a true story, LE TROU takes place at a Parisian prison in 1947, where four closely knit cons planning an escape are faced with a dilemma when an outsider (Marc Michel) is placed in their cell. In French with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)
1952, Jacques Becker, France, 94 min.
"This elegant masterwork is a glowingly nostalgic evocation of the Paris of the
Impressionists...one of the great movie romances."--Tom Milne, Time Out London
Based on a true story, this celebrated film is both a passionate love story and a stunning recreation of the violence and vigor of the 1890s Belle Epoque in Paris. CASQUE D’OR (“Golden Helmet,” referring to the heroine’s hair) centers on the temptress Marie (Simone Signoret), whose beauty stirs up a violent rivalry among three men: her brutal apache boyfriend (William Sabatier), a cunning crime boss (Claude Dauphin), and a quiet young carpenter named Manda (Serge Reggiani). Meeting her by chance at a country café, Manda is drawn into a trap that tightens with the relentless fatalism of film noir. 35mm. (MR)
1945, Jacques Becker, France, 107 min.
- Sat, Jan 26th 5:00pm
- Sat, Feb 2nd 12:00pm
"[Becker's] first masterwork…In FALBALAS, for the first time, he proved himself--
while Ingmar Bergman was still serving his apprenticeship--to be a master of the
closeup, the burning stare into the camera."--Richard Brody, The New Yorker
When FALBALAS, long unseen in the U.S., resurfaced during the recent round of Becker retrospectives, several critics were struck by the resemblances between it and Paul Thomas Anderson's THE PHANTOM THREAD. Boldly mixing romantic comedy with Hoffmanesque fairy tale, the film centers on Philippe Clarence (Raymond Rouleau), a brilliant, temperamental couturier who uses and discards women as easily as one would last year's dress. At a creative ebb, he finds renewed inspiration in his best friend's fiancée (Micheline Presle), but this one proves not so easy to forget. Becker beautifully captures the bustling, hothouse atmosphere of the fashion house; Jean Paul Gaultier cited this as the film that inspired him to become a fashion designer. In French with English subtitles. DCP. (MR)