In Bertrand Tavernier’s wonderful cine-memoire My Journey Through French Cinema (2016), he opens the film talking about the first film scene he remembers having an impact on him as a child: a chase scene of two motorcycle cops pursuing gangsters through a tunnel. It wasn’t until 25 years later that he discovered that the film was Jacques Becker’s debut Dernier atout (1942) and marvels at the fact that “the film that so impressed me was the work of one of France’s greatest filmmakers, one that I would worship. At age 6 I could have made a worse choice.” He goes on to devote the next 15 minutes of the film to Becker whom he describes as “the French director who best understood and mastered American filmmaking”—“Like many American directors he knew that pace is everything, and pace in Becker’s films is quick, crisp and lean”—while at the same time emphasizing how Becker’s films have a distinctly French flavor.
A long-awaited complete two-week retrospective of the films of Jacques Becker started on Wednesday at the newly re-opened Film Forum in New York. I’ve written a little about Becker before, when Antoine and Antoinette had a run at the theater, but I’ve only seen a handful of his films and can’t wait to see more. An assistant director to Jean Renoir on some of his greatest works (Boudu, Partie de campagne, La grande illusion), Becker went on to direct just 15 films himself before his untimely death at the age of 53. His films could not be more different than those of the New Wave that he never lived to see (his final film Le trou was shown posthumously at Cannes the same year that Breathless blew the lid off the place), but he was admired by the New Wave directors, Truffaut especially, and never disparaged as the stuffy cinéma de papa that they reviled. Tavernier (long a champion of those derided by the New Wave) describes Becker as “one of the most modern filmmakers of his time.”
I’ve found posters for all of his films, though more for his two best known, Casque d’or (1952) and Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) than for the others. Those for Casque d’or, while all in very different illustration styles, all use the same iconic image of Simone Signoret with her hands on her hips, while the posters for Grisbi similarly center on the weathered mug of Jean Gabin and a very large gun; though special attention must be paid to the bombastic US one sheet for Grisbi (Hands off the Loot!) that declares “While the city slept...Max ruled supreme, a fortune in his pocket, a Baby doll in each apartment...but a hijacker in every shadow!” but fails to mention the name of the director. I especially love the very stylized posters for Antoine et Antoinette (1947), Edouard et Caroline (1951), Ali Baba (1954) and, at the very end, that wonderful Cuban poster for Le trou (1960).
See more posters for Antoine et Antoinette here.
The Jacques Becker retrospective continues through August 16.