La Nuit du Carrefour (Jean Renoir / France, 1932):

The credits roll over utter darkness briefly illuminated by a blowtorch, from the onset a vision ténébreuse. A 180° pan at drizzly dawn sketches the tiny villa by the side of the road, two or three houses plus a gas station, inside the garage lies the Dutch diamond merchant with a bullet in his face (cf. Foreign Correspondent). Blaming outsiders is the custom, the Dane with the metallic eye-patch (Georges Koudria) gets the third degree in a smoky office until Inspector Maigret (Pierre Renoir) takes over the case. The zonked-out nymph (Winna Winifried), the mechanic (Dignimont) squeezing his accordion, the Pigalle toughs who’ve seen too many American gangster movies, suspects scuttling in and out of the shadows. "Who was that?" "Oh, just an odd character." Jean Renoir on Georges Simenon, or rather between Vampyr and The Big Sleep, "his most mysterious film" (Godard). The unrelenting murkiness has often been attributed to reels being lost during production, and yet is there a better way to show how the flow of human strangeness cannot be contained by the genre rules of the policier? A catalog of feints, the beer bottle full of poison and the stash of cocaine hidden inside the spare tire, a baleful soundtrack of backfiring cars and gun blasts. A midnight chase filmed like a barreling POV tracking shot, the skulking doctor in top hat and white gloves right out of a Universal horror movie, the kind of astonishing invention that’s mistaken for clumsiness by dull-witted writers. Renoir’s Maigret has the proper drooping eye and falcon profile, but it’s Winifried’s indolent femme fatale who’s the beguiling wild card, flashing her thighs and using her halting accent to stretch out every provocative taunt: "If every police officer in France were like you, I’d turn criminal, too." Jacques Becker, credited here as assistant director, revisits it two decades later in Touchez Pas au Grisbi. With Jean Gehret, Georges Térof, Jane Pierson, Michel Duran, Jean Mitry, Max Dalban, and Roger Gaillard. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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