Dir: Louis Malle (A Very Private Affair; My Dinner With Andre; Au revoir, les enfants; Vanya on 42nd Street)
Guess what? A French film noir! Recently issued by Criterion, this is one of Malle's first films, minimalist and very good.
Julien (Maurice Ronet) is having an affair with the boss' wife (Jeanne Reneau). After killing the boss (first five minutes of movie, no spoiler really) he is trapped in an elevator. Meanwhile, a young couple steals his car and gets into trouble. Malle explores the nuances of guilt and evil, with two separate yet intersecting stories of lawbreaking and death illuminating the grey areas of the law and morality. The story is very carefully constructed, with only a few moments where characters take actions that only serve to drive the plot. I won't say it is completely believe all up and down the line, but the film's message is strong enough that I forgive a few coincidences to get that out.
The two male leads, Ronet and Georges Poujouly, are both very solid as silent but troubled figures, going about their business with complete focus. Each of the women also have their moments to lead, picking up the pieces in their own way after their men find themselves is trouble.
The score is very noteworthy, done by Miles Davis. The jazz combo is really a great touch, with that cool stacatto trumpet punching up the dramatic moments. It is very Left Bank bistro, and definitely elevates the film.
A simple story, lots of tension and opportunities to reflect on the meaning of the film. Malle takes his time, keeps it simple, and creates a very solid if not transcendent film. I certainly recommend it, especially for lovers of the genre, even if it falls a touch short of the very best French noirs.