Wednesday, September 05, 2012

French Stereotypes and Ours

I don't think I had ever heard of the movie Quai des Orfèvres, nor its director, Henri-Georges Clouzot, except insofar as I had him mixed up with his homonymous counterpart. Never, that is, until last night when it popped up out of Mrs. Buce's well-manicured Netflix queue--an easy match for, in some ways better than, Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity which we took in just a few days ago. Like DI, it's a piece of unadorned story-telling: no tricks, no gimmicks, just a linear power drive from start to finish. Film buffs apparently give it high marks for the camera work; I'm not hip enough to take that in on first viewing, but it sure was a pleasure to watch.

For an American viewer, at least, it's a triumph of  ambience: you get the sense that you're tucked into a fully slice of Parisian life, so vivid that you make it part of your (necessarily stereotypical?) picture of what France must have been like, at least in its time.  On a quick look, you are tempted to bracket it with the Maigret mysteries of George Simenon.  There are some huge gaps in the comparison but it is not entirely wrong.  They both give you a world that is sordid and mean at first look, yet peopled with an array of memorable characters who seem driven by an unspoken compact to maintain a certain kind of an order, and mostly endowed with an impressive knack for muddling through.  These people have been here, as Proust might say, since Geneviève de Brabant; minor nuisances in the way of murder and betrayal are not going to derail them now.

So for an American viewer, a consoling confirmation of all preconceptions. Yet here is the odd part: forget about its international cachet, evidently the film is a favorite in France, as well.   This strikes me as odd: whatever the French view of themselves, you'd hardly expect it to comport with the view of the untutored foreigners: especially those who are so misguided as to suppose that they actually know something about France.   Or, I guess, the possibility is that the French have foisted it all on a credulous international multitude while they stay home giggling into their fromage?

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

You should have a look at 'Wages of Fear' by the same director.