Back to the Wall

Back to the Wall ★★★★

Top quality French film noir that delivers tragedy and style in equally generous portions. These are the two pillars of classic noir, and you'll struggle to find superior examples of both. On the tragedy side this is an affecting and relatable story of a failed marriage. It's not histrionic in the way a lot of such similar tales are, it's underplayed and seems believable. As for the style, this is a gorgeous looking film, with exquisite framing and incredible use of light and shadows the the nightwork, and picture-perfect shots of Paris in the grey daylight hours. Gérard Oury as the cuckolded husband isn't an actor of huge international renown, but he's great here in an almost Jean-Pierre Melville role as the sharp-dressed cold and calculating plotter. Without his wife's love the warmth inside him is leeched away. She is played by Jeanne Moreau at her most radiant, and sometimes the camera just lingers on her beautiful face, letting the audience both enjoy the sight of it and feel the emotional weight of the character's decisions bearing down upon her. While mostly a two hander in addition to the new fling, there's another interesting character, the bartender. While you'd expect a man in a Hollywood film, here we find another beautiful blonde, just somewhat faded after many years of long hours, but with both empathy and wisdom for her female clientele. Back to the Wall begins, like The Invisible Man (2020), with a long dialogue free sequence, just showing you a person and their desperate acts, which takes courage from a filmmaking perspective, but is the perfect introduction into the world of the movie. Let me also cite another under-appreciated noir, 1948's The Big Clock, which had a very clever inversion of the manhunt trope. Here there's a fascinating new spin of your typical blackmail plot. Back to the Wall deserves to be rediscovered as a lost classic of the genre, it's stark yet stunning, smart yet also a warning about the fallibility of human nature. Seek this one out.

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