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Water Cooler: International Film Noir on Kanopy

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 17, 2020

Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" (1960) stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel and Jean Seberg as Patricia.   (Courtesy)
Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" (1960) stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel and Jean Seberg as Patricia.  (Courtesy)

There is still plenty of time to enjoy “Noirvember” with a seemingly endless cache of film noir to fill it , but don’t just stop at films made in the United States. Noir made a lasting impact on American filmmaking, but it soon spread to cinema around the world.

This new cinematic style quickly became an international phenomenon, its sensibilities, aesthetic and mood being adapted through various cultural lenses. Noir’s particular ability to marry visual style and genre was universal enough to be culturally reinterpreted, but its mood and story world was signature enough to become identified as a distinct trend. The genre oozed “cool” and that was something everyone seemed to understand and wanted to put their own spin on.

One of the most well-known periods of international noir took place in France, with directors like Jean-Pierre Melville with his sophisticated, near silent and minimalist films like “Le Samouraï” (1967) and “Bob le Flambeur” (1955), Henri-Georges Clouzot with his paranoid and cynical noirs like “Quai des Orfèvres” (1947) and “Les Diaboliques” (1955), and Jean-Luc Godard who brought pop and post-modernity to the genre with “Breathless” (or “À bout de souffle”) (1960).

The British, like America, was experiencing a dispirited post-war mood and produced edgy, expressionistic film noir such as Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” (1949), which used a murder mystery to evoke the exhaustion and suspicion of the post-war, John Boulting’s “Brighton Rock” (1948) which explored the criminal underbelly of Brighton during the war, and Roy Ward Baker’s “The October Man” (1947), in which a man suffers a serious brain injury, simulating the disoriented and wariness feelings of the time.

Italy, already influenced by the yellow-jacketed pulp crime novels of its own (later to spur the giallo film genre) also created early adaptations of American noir novels such as Luchino Visconti adaptation of James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” called “Ossessione” (1943).

Japan’s celebrated director Akira Kurosawa used noir to incorporate modern edge to Japanese cinema with his works, “Straw Dog” (1949), “High and Low” (1963) and “The Bad Sleep Well” (1960). Takashi Nomura’s “A Colt Is My Passport” (1967) and Seijun Suzuki’s “Branded to Kill”(1967) took noir style to another level, setting it in the flashy underworlds of gang lords and hit men.

Visit Kanopy to peruse a selection of international noir, all available to stream for free with a local library card. Check out these films to get started.

“Bob the Gambler” (“Bob le Flambeur”) – An aging gambler is distracted by a table on the day he and his associates have planned to holdup the Deauville casino. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. 1956. 103 minutes.

“Brighton Rock” – A psychotic, razor-obsessed gang leader marries a teenage waitress in order to keep her quiet about one of his heinous crimes. Directed by John Boulting. 1948. 93 minutes.

“Un Flic” (“A Cop”) – A marriage of suspense and style in a tense story of a bank robbery on a deserted beach front, featuring a helicopter heist scene. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. 1972. 96 minutes.

“Breathless” (“À bout de souffle”) – A drifting, small-time gangster tries to woo a young American journalist. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. 1960. 91 minutes.

“They Made Me A Fugitive” – A former pilot is double-crossed by his boss. After breaking out of Dartmoor Prison, he is set on seeking brutal revenge. Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. 1947. 98 minutes.

“Pool of London” – Small-time smuggler and sailor, Dan, is caught on his way to take some nylons from his girlfriend through customs. His offenses are far from over as he soon meets a man who asks him to smuggle diamonds. Directed by Basil Deardan. 1951. 83 minutes.

“Le Doulos” – Fresh out of prison, Maurice murders a man and immediately prepares for another heist. He seeks the help of his friend Silien who he doesn’t realize is an informer. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. 1962. 109 minutes.

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