Quai des Orfevres | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Quai des Orfevres

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The skillful writer-director Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear, Diabolique) is mainly known for his corrosive misanthropy (his creepy The Raven, a story about poison-pen letters in a village made during the French occupation, was subsequently and unfairly castigated for being anti-French). Yet surprisingly, this accomplished 1947 noir turns that misanthropy precisely on its head without ever resorting to sentimentality or stereotypes; whereas everyone in The Raven seems a villain, no one is truly a villain here. The milieus of a seedy music hall and an equally seedy police station in Paris are delineated with such richness and attentiveness toward the postoccupation climate that when the murder of a licentious film producer brings a police inspector (the great Louis Jouvet) into the music hall, Clouzot is able to reveal a complex and interactive working-class world in which cops and criminals are sometimes difficult to tell apart. The principal epiphanies in this tale emerge from Jouvet's expressions of kinship with a flirtatious singer (Suzy Delair) and a lesbian photographer (Simone Renant), but there are also memorable portraits of the singer's mousy pianist husband (Bernard Blier--the father of writer-director Bertrand Blier), a music publisher (Henri Arius), and several others. The film has recently been restored; in French with subtitles. 106 min. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, December 27 through January 2.

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