A highlight of Cinematheque's Jacques Becker series offers a gritty tale of lust and violence. Info
Of the eight films in Cinematheque's ongoing Jacques Becker series, Casque D'Or (1951) may offer the most thrilling marriage of the director's affinity for romance and crime. In capturing the mood of 1930s poetic realism and '40s noir in the period aesthetic of the Belle Époque (late 19th-early 20th century), the film takes its cues from a notorious true case in 1901 as well as the work of fellow Frenchman Jean-Pierre Melville, whose gritty, tragic, and cool chronicles of the underworld are considered precursors to the French New Wave.
Becker's opening shot may gently glide over a river in the idyllic Joinsville countryside, but the location is only a temporary haven within an otherwise fraught urban tale of doomed mustachioed men competing for the affections of the alluring "demimonde" Marie (1960 Academy Award-winner Simone Signoret). Under the watchful eye of conniving gang boss Félix Leca (Claude Dauphin), the stoic, recently reformed carpenter Georges Manda (Serge Reggiani) instantly falls for Marie after an introduction by his former inmate friend Raymond (Raymond Bussières). However, this chance encounter provokes the ire of not only fellow mob member Roland (William Sabatier) but also a certain twisted and obsessive envy from Leca himself.
The waltzing rhythms of the former half are jostled a bit by primitive sexual politics and machismo of the film's era, which encourage some unintentionally absurd dialogue. But Becker also successfully creates a deeper commentary on the spontaneous complications of lust and its inextricably sorrowful link to an inescapable specter of violence. With a concluding act that equally evokes Hitchcock and Truffaut's Jules And Jim (1962), Casque D'Or remains a timeless exploration of the evil that men do in vengeance and attempted redemption. —Grant Phipps