The banlieue wore black
Post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau
in Screening the Paris suburbs
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This overview charts the evolution from the 1950s to the 1980s of the French detective or crime film (le polar). Proto-noir films shot before World War II had been primarily centred on Paris, a trend furthered in post-war works which regularly conjoined seedy Pigalle and the glamorous Champs-Elysées as two sides of the same coin. From Jacques Becker (Casque d’or, 1952; Grisbi, 1954) to Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Doulos, 1962; Le Samouraï, 1967) via Jules Dassin (Rififi, 1955), a gradual shift toward suburban locales takes place around new genre conventions and motifs. The suburbs variously lend themselves to hideouts, shootouts and executions; to the sale of all things illegal or counterfeit; to the gloomy atmospherics of railway tracks, deserted roadways and abandoned villas. A subsequent generation of directors would exploit the multi-faceted social and geographical reality of the modern housing estates that encroached upon traditional allotments of single-family homes and pockets of suburban wasteland; Henri Verneuil’s mainstream caper Mélodie en sous-sol (1963) thus portrays a disorientatingly mutating Sarcelles. Most decisively, Alain Corneau’s naturalistic noirs Série noire (1979) and Choix des armes(1981) add a sociological dimension to the genre by broaching questions of violence, alienation and devastation.

Screening the Paris suburbs

From the silent era to the 1990s

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