Saturday, July 14, 2018

Celebrating Bastille Day with French Noir

Today is Bastille Day, the National Day of France – la fête nationale française. If you have a bit of French blood in your veins and are a Francophile, like me, that’s reason enough to celebrate. But how to celebrate? With a baguette and a glass of vin rouge? Listening to Edith Piaf (or Madeleine Peyroux) sing La vie en rose? Or are you, a die-hard film buff, more inclined to sit down with a classic film? Perhaps a French film, a Renoir, Duvivier, Melville or Truffaut. Or maybe a glittery Golden Age Hollywood movie set in France, like Midnight (1939), An American in Paris (1950) or Charade (1963).

I started my celebration early, yesterday, with a film, a fascinating French Noir directed by underappreciated Henri Ducoin and featuring Andree Clement, a dark and intense young actress described by programmer Don Malcolm of Midcentury Productions as “the first Goth girl.”

The film, Fille du diable/Devil’s Daughter (1946) is one of only 13 films Clement appeared in during her brief career and life. The story follows the convoluted fate of a celebrated criminal named Saget (Pierre Fresnay) who has managed to escape a shootout with the police after a notorious bank robbery. When chance presents the opportunity – not unlike that of Mad Men’s Don Draper – to assume a new identity (while keeping the stolen loot), he takes it and soon finds himself in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable role of model citizen in a village in the provinces. Clement portrays Isabelle, an embittered local outcast who heads up a gang of young hoodlums bent on harassing upright citizens and vandalizing the town.

Saget, now known as Mercier, falls under the influence of the congenial town doctor (Fernand Ledoux) who treated him following the fatal accident that provided the opening to begin his new life. The doctor knows who he really is and uses this power to induce Saget/Mercier to spend some of his stolen money on good works, charitable works, works that benefit the community. When Isabelle learns Mercier is actually the gangster Saget, a criminal she has idolized for years, she is incensed that he seems to be adapting to his role as a pillar of the community. Catastrophe follows. It's a dark, juicy film with added intrigue in the triangular dynamic that develops between Saget/Mercier, the doctor and Isabelle.  The cinematography of Armand Thirard - who worked often with Henri-Georges Clouzot, notably on The Wages of Fear (1953) and Diabolique (1955) – is superb. And Andree Clement. A unique presence. Severe, potent, alien. Goth.

Today, continuing my Bastille Day observance, I’ll be watching another Clement film, Macadam/The Back Streets of Paris (1946) from directors Jacques Feyder and Marcel Blistene, and co-starring a young Simone Signoret. In this one, Clement plays the innocent.


Fille du diable/Devil’s Daughter and Macadam/The Back Streets of Paris will screen at San Francisco’s Roxie Theatre on Thursday night, July 26, as part of a one-day tribute to Andree Clement, Midsummer Nightmare, from Midcentury Productions. Click here for details.

Andree Clement in Fille du diable/Devil's Daughter


  1. Et une joyeuse fete nationale a vous aussi!

    I have not seen either of the films that you mention in your post. Have you had any luck finding them on DVD? I tried a search at my local library system, but no luck there.

    Make Mine Film Noir

    1. Merci, Marianne! Thank you. I've been fortunate to be able to view these films through my acquaintance with Midcentury Productions which produces several programs/festivals in San Francisco every year: French noir, international noir and more. I will see what I can find out about DVD availability. Vive la noir francaise!

  2. Thanks for pointing out these films Patty, as I haven't seen them and they sound like two winners. Fille du Diable sounds very intriguing and your review of it is quite a propros. I'll look out for them.

    1. Midcentury Productions does a tremendous job of bringing obscure French noir to light. I'm really looking forward to the annual French noir fest MCP puts on in SF every year. More hidden gems to come, Christian...