Presented by Music Box and the Film Noir Foundation, the sixth annual Noir City: Chicago festival follows one week after the nationwide release of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's much-hyped noir revival Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Both are devotional acts, dedicated to enlarging the audience for classic film noir, yet their approaches to this mission couldn't be more different. Sin City is essentially reductive; as I wrote in my capsule review, Miller and Rodriguez "take all the key elements of hard-boiled fiction and boil them down even harder, till there's nothing left but a crusty residue of vicious thugs, cynical losers, crooked politicians, viperish women, and flying glass as people get punched out and crash through windows." By contrast, Noir City has always been expansive, broadening the canon with forgotten movies that have been restored by the foundation and widening the parameters of the genre to include movies that don't immediately strike one as film noirs.
This year the festival debunks the idea of noir as strictly an American export by pulling in films, both known and unknown, from France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Argentina, and the UK. These international entries may not conform to our visual sense of film noir, with its expressionist use of light and shadow, but the ones I've seen fall squarely within the thematic concerns of the genre, which sprang out of the postwar conviction that humanity was hopelessly tainted. "All those years in the war, so many men became beasts at the slightest provocation," remembers the veteran-turned-cop in Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog (Wed 9/3, 7 PM). A rookie homicide detective, he loses his revolver to a pickpocket aboard a crowded bus and spends the rest of the movie haunted by the suspicion that it's become a murder weapon. Henri-Georges Clouzot's Quai des Orfevres (Sun 8/31, 4:30 PM) and Juan Antonio Bardem's Death of a Cyclist (Sat 8/30, 2 and 9:30 PM) both deal with romantic couples who slowly turn on each other after a third party is killed; like so many other noirs, they reinforce the sense of love as a poisoned flower.
All those titles have been released on DVD by the Criterion Collection, but there are numerous rarities too. The Black Vampire (Thu 9/4, 7 PM) is an Argentine revision of Fritz Lang's German classic M in which the mothers of murdered children band together to track down the culprit; it screens on a double bill with the obscure American remake of M (Thu 9/4, 5 and 9 PM) that we reviewed at length last fall. Opening night brings two femme fatale items: Too Late for Tears (Fri 8/29, 7 PM), with Lizabeth Scott as a housewife who gets her hands on a cash-stuffed suitcase, and Roadblock (Fri 8/29, 9 PM), with Joan Dixon as a bad penny who corrupts insurance investigator Charles McGraw. And more fallen women turn up in Caged (Mon 9/1, 3 and 7 PM), described by former Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum as "the most ferociously effective and polemically potent women's prison film ever made," and Tension (Mon 9/1, 5 and 9 PM), screening as a tribute to noir icon Audrey Totter (The Set-Up, The Postman Always Rings Twice), who died in December.