ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS
ASCENSEUR POUR L’ECHAFAUD
1958, Rialto Pictures, 91 min, France, Dir: Louis Malle

“I knew I loved you, but I thought only of myself,” murmurs gorgeous Jeanne Moreau - after setting in motion a murderous plot involving her fat-cat husband, a young intelligence officer (Maurice Ronet) and some of the darkest twists and turns in French cinema. Made when Malle was only 25 years old, ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS helped jump-start the French New Wave as one of the first films to represent the new young voice in French cinema. The dazzling cinematography is by Henri Decaë (who also shot THE 400 BLOWS) and the sublime jazz score is by Miles Davis.


LÉON MORIN, PRIEST
1961, Rialto Pictures, 117 min, France/Italy, Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville

In a French Alps village during WWII, widowed mother Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) walks into a confessional, but not as a believer; a communist and atheist, she is more concerned about the welfare of her daughter during the occupation. The priest she speaks to, Léon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo, wonderfully cast against type), proves exceptionally insightful, and as they begin to have philosophical conversations outside of church, she feels a growing attraction to the young man. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Henri Decaë, this is among the most thoughtful examinations of faith and its challenges ever made.


LE SILENCE DE LA MER
1949, Janus Films, 88 min, France, Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville

Based on the popular Vercors novel about occupied France, director Jean-Pierre Melville’s feature debut is largely set in a French home commandeered by the Nazis for one of their officers (Howard Vernon). The uncle (Jean-Marie Robain) and niece (Nicole Stéphane) who live there cooperate grudgingly, refusing to speak to their German guest, though over time his friendly overtures have their effect. Made outside the French studio system on a shoestring budget, with extensive use of location shooting and natural light, this involving drama helped plant seeds that would later blossom as the French New Wave.


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