March 10, 2016
Dinner and a Movie: French Noir!
Tired of the same old thing? Why not spice up an evening at home with a French-themed movie night? French Noir, Pizza (French Style), and wine! The French have long been enamored with Hollywood and with crime sagas, in particular–movies based on the hard-boiled crime novels of Dashiell Hammett, starring Bogart, Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.
Like so many other countries, the French sought to create their own films and stars emulating the latest thrillers that came over the Atlantic. Soon, directors were creating their own films, albeit, with a definite Gallic sensibility.
Let Paris Grocery be your guide in introducing you to a thrilling cinematic ride, accompanied by savory bites and delicious wine!
French Noir aka Films Policiers
Films policiers is a term used to describe the crime thriller genre of French film, often in the context of trench coat-wearing gangsters, and tough, ageing police detectives. Films policiers came about as an attempt by French filmmakers to emulate American film noir in the 1940s. Although, the genre passed through many phases, it was always recognizable, sharing a number of narrative and stylistic elements that more or less codified the film policier. The film usually centers on an outsider, either a petty criminal, gambler, or a cop, who assumes the moral high ground and is engaged in a fight for survival against a formidable adversary. The hero or anti-hero, is always male, charismatic, seemingly indestructible and ruthless, yet with a soft, human side, and most certainly, doomed to failure—usually dying in the film’s last five minutes! His world is populated by other tough males, with women nearly always cast as prostitutes, mistresses, or object of male desire. It’s a rough, bleak and violent world.
The genre was pioneered and mastered by essentially unknown directors such as, Jean-Pierre Melville (born Jean-Pierre Grumbach, but adopting the pseudonym Melville in honor of the author of Moby Dick), Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jacques Becker, Henri Verneuil, Jacques Dernay, and Georges Lautner. In many ways, while owing allegiance and inspiration to American film noir, the French creations often surpassed the originals, insofar as they had little or no censorship to deal with, allowing for tougher language, realistic violence, and occasionally, nudity; all which made a more sophisticated portrayal of the dynamics of crime, marriage and adultery possible. Also, these films offer a glimpse into a time gone by, a simpler time, and of a Paris that no longer exists–the movies, while impeccably hard-boiled, are valentines to a romantic Paris, now two or three times removed from our own purview.
Happily, there’s a whole world of films policiers to explore, and we offer three classics of the genre, listed below. You can also further your enjoyment of French films of the ‘50s and ‘60s by attending the film series, Cinema de Paris: Loving French Film, Mar 31 – May 26 2016, at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and co-sponsored by the Alliance Française. For more information, please click on the link:http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/talks
Bob le flambeur (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1956)
“Suffused with wry humor, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur melds the toughness of American gangster films with Gallic sophistication to lay the road map for the French New Wave. As the neon is extinguished for another dawn, an aging gambler navigates the treacherous world of pimps, moneymen, and naive associates while plotting one last score—the heist of the Deauville casino. This underworld comedy of manners possesses all the formal beauty, finesse, and treacherous allure of green baize.” – Criterion Collection
Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)
“After making such American noir classics as Brute Force and The Naked City, the blacklisted director Jules Dassin went to Paris and embarked on his masterpiece: a twisting, turning tale of four ex-cons who hatch one last glorious robbery in the City of Light. Rififi is the ultimate heist movie, a mélange of suspense, brutality, and dark humor that was an international hit, earned Dassin the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and has proven wildly influential on the decades of heist thrillers that have come in its wake.” – Criterion Collection
Le Cercle rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)
“Alain Delon plays a master thief, fresh out of prison, who crosses paths with a notorious escapee (Gian Maria Volonté) and an alcoholic ex-cop (Yves Montand). The unlikely trio plot a heist, against impossible odds, until a relentless inspector and their own pasts seal their fates. Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge combines honorable antiheroes, coolly atmospheric cinematography, and breathtaking set pieces to create a masterpiece of crime cinema.”
– Criterion Collection
Tarte Flambée – An Alsatian tart, also known as Flammekueche, made from a simple bread dough that is thinly rolled out and topped with creme fraiche, sliced onions, and thin slices of bacon, called lardons. (Try out the recipe here!)
Pissaladière – I like to think of this as a Provencal Pizza. A prevalent street food in Provence, this rectangular flat yeast bread is scattered with caramelized onions, anchovies, and Nicoise olives.
(Pictured: David Lebovitz’s Pissaladière from My Paris Kitchen)
Reine Blanche – A typical pizza found in France and popular in Corsica, this translates as The White Queen. An olive oil and creme fraiche base is then topped with Gruyere, onions, mushrooms, black olives, and ham. You might even see it with an egg cracked in the middle.
Absolutely! Pizza and wine, what could be finer? Herewith, are two wines that will add pizzaz to any pizza, Corsican, French, or otherwise. Santé!
Domaine Cabirau Cotes de Roussillon, 2013 $16.99
“A blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Carignan that was aged mostly in tank, it offers a voluptuous, sexy personality to go with lots of kirsch and black raspberry fruit, savory herbs, pepper and dried earth. This medium to full-bodied, complex, elegant red has a core of sweet fruit, fine tannin and a great texture, all of which come together nicely on the finish. It’s already hard to resist, and I see no reason to delay gratification. These blockbuster efforts are made by Dan Kravitz at the coop in Tautavel. They more than over-deliver and offer classic Roussillon flair and texture, yet back it up with solid mid-palate concentration and sound structure.” 91 Points, Wine Advocate.
Michel Gassier Nostre Pais Costieres de Nimes, 2013
“The 2013 Nostre Pais Costieres de Nimes is a Châteauneuf du Pape look-alike. Made from 45% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 10% Mourvèdre and the rest Cinsault, it saw a long maceration and slightly more oak than normal due to the higher acidity that was common in the vintage. Roasted herbs, licorice, black raspberries and toasted spices are some of nuance here, and it’s medium to full-bodied, mouth-filling and textured, with sweet tannin. It’s a sexy, gorgeous wine to drink over the coming 4-5 years.” Wine Advocate.
Bon Appétit et Bonne Soirée Cinéma!
Kelsey & Manuel