Sunday, August 7, 2011

Preview: Theft and Thieves

August is there, and the sweltering heat is in full swing. These are the dog days, as they say. Doesn't some quality time in a chilly movie theater sound... amazing right about now? More over, this is not simply mindless entertainment, like that new Ryan Reynolds/Jason Bateman body switch movie.

Over the next two weeks, the Paramount Theatre is celebrating Classic World Cinema, foreign films of a much higher caliber than anything found in a local multiplex. First up are two French films from the mid 1950s, both of which pre-date the New Wave of Godard and Truffaut. Ahh, and who doesn't love that French sense of style? After all, if I recall correctly, tout le monde aimait quand Bradley Cooper parlait le français, non?

Bob Le Flambeur, released in 1956, is a stylish movie that shows director Jean-Pierre Melville's affinity for American noir and gangster films of the '30s and '40s. It's the story of Bob, an aged gambler and ex-con who is down on his luck. He's not the "Kenny Rogers" brand of gambler, he's an old school hustler; the kind of cool and suave fellow that knows everybody. And although Bob's walked the straight path for 20 years, he's tempted by a casino safe rumored to hold millions of francs. With that kind of jackpot at stake, Bob takes one last roll of the dice and plans a heist in the very place where the house always wins. Sure it's a risky venture, but it's a lot easier to go all in when you don't have much to lose.

A cool and confident movie with style in spades, Bob Le Flambeur is now considered to be a predecessor to the French New Wave of the early 1960s. Decades later, Melville's concept of the hardened yet cool gambler still echoed in 1996's Hard Eight and obviously in Steven Soderbergh's Oceans 11 trilogy. In 2002, director Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, Interview with the Vampire, The Crying Game) remade this French classic as The Good Thief, starring Nick Nolte.

Robert Bresson is another influential French director who is known for making emotive and often gloomy yet beautiful tales. His Diary of a Country Priest and Trial of Joan of Arc are arguably his best known works, and examples of the Catholicism he injected into his stories about redemption and temptation. He made Pickpocket in 1959 and, far from a conventional crime story, more of a morality tale that many critics have compared with Dostoyevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment. In this film, Michel is a lonely pickpocket who is under the watchful eye of the local police inspector. This larceny begins as a hobby, but soon becomes an alternative to a series of harsh hands life deals him. Should he go straight? How much of a crime is his petty stealing? Or is he merely living by his wits?

So while the rest of the world feels so hot that it may well melt around you, say oui to the Paramount Theatre and take in these two influential French crime films. Allow them to steal your attention for a spell, and perhaps you can remove those myopic glasses and open your eyes to a larger worldview. After all, across the globe we often tackle the same problems, we face long odds, we suffer from the consequences of human nature, and we all feel the same relief when we can earn a respite from those overbearing dog days... or should I refer to them as the canicule de l'été? After all, that's what the French would say, ça va?

Showtimes for the films:

Bob Le Flambeur
Tuesday, Aug 9th
Wednesday, Aug 10th

Tuesday, Aug 9th
Wednesday, Aug 10th

Final Notes about the screening:

$2 discount for Austin Film Society members at the box office for all "World Cinema Classics" films!

Double Features:
"When two movies are grouped together under the same thematic heading, one ticket is good for both features when viewed back-to-back on the same day." (cha-ching!)

"Hassle-free downtown parking available for $6 at the One American Center for all summer films! Since you’re also supporting the theatre when you buy parking, they're giving you a free small soda each time you park there for a film. Buy online with your film tix and print out your confirmation e-mail or buy directly from the garage attendant (cash only). Attendant will have your soda ticket as well."

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