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Screening the Paris suburbsFrom the silent era to the 1990s$
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Derek Schilling and Philippe Met

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781526106858

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526106858.001.0001

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The banlieue wore black: post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau

The banlieue wore black: post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau

(p.139) 11 The banlieue wore black: post-war French polar, from Becker to Corneau
Screening the Paris suburbs

Philippe Met

Manchester University Press

This overview charts the evolution from the 1950s to the 1980s of the French detective or crime film (le polar). Proto-noir films shot before World War II had been primarily centred on Paris, a trend furthered in post-war works which regularly conjoined seedy Pigalle and the glamorous Champs-Elysées as two sides of the same coin. From Jacques Becker (Casque d’or, 1952; Grisbi, 1954) to Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Doulos, 1962; Le Samouraï, 1967) via Jules Dassin (Rififi, 1955), a gradual shift toward suburban locales takes place around new genre conventions and motifs. The suburbs variously lend themselves to hideouts, shootouts and executions; to the sale of all things illegal or counterfeit; to the gloomy atmospherics of railway tracks, deserted roadways and abandoned villas. A subsequent generation of directors would exploit the multi-faceted social and geographical reality of the modern housing estates that encroached upon traditional allotments of single-family homes and pockets of suburban wasteland; Henri Verneuil’s mainstream caper Mélodie en sous-sol (1963) thus portrays a disorientatingly mutating Sarcelles. Most decisively, Alain Corneau’s naturalistic noirs Série noire (1979) and Choix des armes (1981) add a sociological dimension to the genre by broaching questions of violence, alienation and devastation.

Keywords:   crime films, genre conventions, new towns, wastelands, violence

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