The Review/Short Read/

Put some sang froid in your summer with French Crime Classics

The silly season gets sinister with this stellar collection of Gallic chillers

Henri-Georges Clouzot's DIABOLIQUE

by James Quandt
Jul 3, 2017

The TIFF Cinematheque series Panique: French Crime Classicsa complement to this season's retrospective of crime-cinema master Jean-Pierre Melvilleruns from July 6 to September 3.

Spend a summer of panique and crimes passionnels in the company of hired killers, femmes fatales, mad scientists, identity thieves and assorted assassins, kidnappers, and larcenists casting their trench-coated shadows in the seedy quartiers, shabby casinos, and fog-enshrouded streets of postwar France. This stellar selection of classic crime films, several in new or restored prints, features such celebrated directors as Jean-Luc Godard, Julien Duvivier, Claude Chabrol, Georges Franju, François Truffaut, Louis Malle, Jacques Becker and Jules Dassin, and a gallery of leading stars (Alain Delon, Jean Gabin, Jeanne Moreau, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michel Piccoli, Romy Schneider, Lino Ventura et al.).

Extending from the bleak poetics of the ’30s and ’40s through the ironic, affectionate genre play of the New Wave in the ’60s to the cinéma du look extravagance of Jean-Jacques Beineix, the sardonic cynicism of Henri-Georges Clouzot and the moral ambiguities of Claude Sautet, Panique brings a bracing chill to the season of soaring temperatures — dripping with sang froid and frissons, it’s cinematic A/C, Gallic style.

See below for some of the highlights from the series:

The brilliant first film by Louis Malle features an impossible glamorous and sullen Jeanne Moreau as a scheming and steely murderess, glistening photography by Jean-Pierre Melville’s favourite cinematographer Henri Decäe, and a moody jazz score by the legendary Miles Davis.

Jules Dassin’s heist thriller became instantly famous for its central jewel-robbery sequence, a nail-biting 30-minute set piece that takes place without either dialogue or music.

Jean-Paul Belmondo spoofs James Bond in this globe-trotting comedy thriller featuring the star doing his own spectacular stuntwork in a series of death-defying exploits, from scaling cliffs and skyscrapers to swinging through the Amazon jungle and jousting with the jaws of a crocodile.

The great Jean Gabin gives one of his signature performances as a past-his-prime but still high-style gangster (complete with crisply pressed pyjamas and late-night snacks of foie gras and white wine) who takes on a major gold heist.

Purple, perverse, malicious and delicious, this Jean Genet-scripted melodrama features a delectably depraved performance by Jeanne Moreau as a supposedly prim rural schoolteacher who dabbles in arson and corporal punishment before meeting her sadomasochistic match in a rugged Italian itinerant.

We took our series title from this recently restored, long-unavailable suspense classic about a reclusive, voyeuristic bachelor (Michel Simon) whose narrow-minded neighbours turn on him when a young girl in the neighbourhood is murdered.

Isabelle Huppert won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her career-making performance in Claude Chabrol’s true-life teenage murderess tale, the first of seven collaborations between Huppert and the French crime-cinema master.

One of the moodiest mysteries imaginable, this recently rediscovered classic takes place in an off-season French seaside resort, where a secretive stranger awakens a wave of suspicion when he checks in to the local hotel.

The spectacular debut by Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique, The Wages of Fear) is a dark, droll mystery about a slick police inspector who goes undercover in a bizarre boarding house to seek out a serial killer who leaves a signature calling card on the bodies of his victims.

Director Georges Franju revived French cinema’s first superhero with his dreamlike remake of the silent serial Judex, about a cloaked avenger battling evil in a surreal vision of pre-WWI France.