This chapter explores the assumptions and investigates the specificity of French film noir, assuming it can be said to exist. It seeks to locate French film noir in terms of the relationship between narrative, visual style and 'tone', arguing that a key mark of its 'Frenchness' is a particularly paradoxical relationship between these elements. The chapter provides insights into the specificity of French film noir rather than an exhaustive survey. Historians of French cinema of the années noires (the German Occupation) have identified its dominant feature as a series of paradoxes. French film noir appears to be at its blackest when not in the policier mould, and often at its lightest in the gangster/detective films proper. Apart from Jean-Pierre Melville's films and a few other thrillers such as Le Trou, the greatest coherence of noir style, narrative and tone is to be found in poetic realism and social noir.
One of the most prolific and successful francophone writers of the twentieth century, Georges Simenon is also one of the most frequently adapted to the screen. His legendary output includes 436 novels published between 1931 and 1972, as well as many essays and autobiographical pieces of writing. Seventy-five of them are devoted to the author’s most popular hero, Chief Inspector Maigret, a senior policeman in Paris. The first Maigret novel, Pietr-le-letton, was published in 1931. Others followed at a phenomenal rate until 1934, when Simenon attempted to put a stop to them in order to concentrate on what he considered his more serious romans durs. However, public demand and financial reward were hard to resist; the Maigret series resumed and continued until 1972. Barely a year elapsed between the publication of the first Maigret novel and the first film version, La Nuit du carrefour, directed by Jean Renoir in 1932. Many others followed, with altogether more than 300 films and television series. At least thirty actors have incarnated the character. ‘Maigret’ describes his relationship with the author who created him, while the latter explains that he deliberately drew the policeman as a simplified, instantly recognizable silhouette ‘that gradually became fleshed out with details’.