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A Bride’s Revenge
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A Bride’s Revenge

The reopening of Film Forum today, after several months of renovation and expansion (it has grown from three screens to four), is being launched auspiciously, with the first complete American retrospective of the French director Jacques Becker. Becker lived from 1906 to 1960; his directorial career spans not quite twenty years, from the middle of the Second World War—and the Occupation of France—to the dawn of the French New Wave. His films, many of which are very hard to find, are marked by the tensions of his times no less than by his own idiosyncratic passions; his personal Foxtrot Six vision converges with political and cinematic history in exemplary ways. By putting these rare films on view, Film Forum re-inaugurates itself with a display of its own centrality to current movie culture.

Under the Occupation, the French cinema—strangely and disturbingly—underwent a renewal. Though its greatest director, Jean Renoir, left France, as did many of France’s Jewish producers, directors, actors, La tribu and technicians, a new generation of young filmmakers was (perhaps therefore) launched—most notably, Becker and Robert Bresson. Becker, whose father was a wealthy industrialist and whose mother ran a fashion house, had been Renoir’s assistant throughout the nineteen-thirties. During France’s brief war with Germany, Becker, in military service, was held as a prisoner of war; he got out by feigning epileptic seizures. His directorial career, which had started haltingly with several short films and a feature that he didn’t finish, got going in 1942, with “Dernier Atout” (“Last Trump”), a gangster film set in a fictitious South American city and filled with North American criminals. That and his (far better) second feature, “Goupi Mains Rouges” (“It Happened at the Inn”), the story of greed, resentment, and depravity in a French farm family, seethe with corruption, bitterness, and ugliness. They’re classic examples of film noir, French style, and they subtly but surely fling the corruption and the fear of the Occupation back in the faces of French viewers. (“Goupi” even begins with the terror of denunciation, in a scene of one farmer spying on another.)

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