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Dark Nights: Simenon and Cinema

July 11, 2013 - August 29, 2013


Georges Simenon’s taut, slim novels are perfect companions for summer vacations. His stout Inspector Maigret, pipe clenched between his teeth, has investigated hundreds of crimes, less obsessed by chasing clues than motivated by Simenon’s own motto, “to understand without condemning.” Working intuitively, with vital breaks to enjoy food and drink, Maigret inhabits a criminal’s character, empathizing with the reasons why they act as they do. Written between the moneymaking Maigret mysteries, Simenon’s darker romans durs, or psychological novels, detail how ordinary lives derail, whether through weariness, weakness, or deluded dreams.

While in no way approaching Simenon’s own prolific output, a number of mysteries, thrillers, and melodramas have brought his prose to the screen. Although Simenon was skeptical about cinema adaptations, directors Julien Duvivier, Marcel Carné, and Claude Chabrol in France; the lesser-known Phil Karlson and Henry Hathaway in the United States; and, most recently, the Hungarian Béla Tarr have all paid fitting cinematic tribute to Simenon’s unique understanding of human frailty. Akira Kurosawa, too, was a fan, writing an homage to Simenon and then adapting it to film. Read the books, join us to see a rich array of movies, and spend the summer understanding the darkness that lies within.

Kathy Geritz, Film Curator

Thursday, July 11, 2013
7:00 p.m. La tête d’un homme
Julien Duvivier (France, 1933). Archival Print! The famed Inspector Maigret roams crowded Montparnasse cafes and dingy tenements as he hunts for a nihilistic, Dostoevskian killer. Both a classic film noir and a seminal police procedural. (98 mins)

Saturday, July 13, 2013
8:30 p.m. Stray Dog
Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1949). (Nora inu). Toshiro Mifune is a driven detective in this bravura Tokyo noir, Kurosawa’s homage to Simenon. Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura star. “A bona fide masterpiece” (Time Out). (122 mins)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Man on the Eiffel Tower
Burgess Meredith (U.S., 1949). Archival Print! In the second adaptation of Simenon’s La tête d’un homme, Burgess Meredith directs Charles Laughton as Inspector Maigret, and himself as Maigret's prey, in a bizarrely menacing Parisian cat-and-mouse game. (97 mins)

Friday, July 19, 2013
7:00 p.m. La Marie du port
Marcel Carné (France, 1950). Jean Gabin plays a middle-aged restaurateur falling slowly in love with his mistress’s young sister in Carné’s adaptation of Simenon’s complex love story. “All in all, La Marie du port is a delight. It is subtle, witty, and civilized” (New Yorker). (85 mins)

Saturday, July 20, 2013
8:30 p.m. The Brothers Rico
Phil Karlson (U.S., 1957). Archival Print! Eddie Rico thinks he’s finally out of the mob, but family ties (and “family” ties) soon draw him back in. Based on Simenon’s Les frères Rico, Karlson’s hardboiled noir rewrites the greeting-card sentiments of fifties family values into a treatise on entrapment and betrayal. (92 mins)

Friday, July 26, 2013
8:45 p.m. Monsieur Hire
Patrice Leconte (France, 1989). Archival Print! Michel Blanc stars as the titular Monsieur Hire, an orderly, precise man who enjoys watching people (especially his beautiful neighbor). But is he a killer, too? “Simenon was fascinated by peculiarities of human personality, which he described in elegant, simple prose, not unlike Leconte’s controlled visual style here” (Roger Ebert). (81 mins)

Sunday, July 28, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Bottom of the Bottle
Henry Hathaway (U.S., 1956). Digital Restoration! Joseph Cotton and Van Johnson star as bitterly estranged brothers, living among the not-so-gentlemanly ranchers of Nogales. Shot in ‘Scope by the great Lee Garmes. “A nice balance of studio-bred opulence and willful leanness, and a keen sense of appropriately Simenonian harshness” (Film Comment). (88 mins)

Friday, August 2, 2013
7:00 p.m. Betty
Claude Chabrol (France, 1992). Imported 35mm Print! Pretty young Betty (Marie Trintignant) washes up at a seedy bar, drunk, bleary, and lost, and begins to recount a tale of marriage and motherhood gone bad to an older, sympathetic woman (Stéphane Audran), in Chabrol’s “ferociously accurate portrayal of two women who no longer fit the bourgeois mold” (Variety). (103 mins)

Friday, August 9, 2013
8:45 p.m. Red Lights
Cédric Kahn (France, 2003). (Feux rouges). In Kahn’s taut, stylized thriller, a couple’s holiday excursion to pick up their children from summer camp devolves into a nightmarish road trip. Simenon’s novel is set in the United States; Kahn’s lost highways span Paris to Bordeaux. “A pitch-perfect, paranoid fantasy” (Film Comment). (105 mins)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013
7:00 p.m. Le train
Pierre Granier-Deferre (France, 1973). Set almost entirely on a train en route out of France just ahead of the German invasion, Le train stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as a married man and Romy Schneider as a Jewish refugee; the two meet and fall in love when the man is separated from his family. “Granier-Deferre . . . finds the right tone for the Simenon story” (The Guardian). (95 mins)

Friday, August 16, 2013
8:45 p.m. The Clockmaker
Bertrand Tavernier (France, 1974). (L’horloger de Saint-Paul). Tavernier's debut feature is an expertly crafted adaptation of a Simenon novel. The clockwork existence of Descombes, the craftsman of the film's title, is shattered by the news that his son has been accused of murdering a factory spy. “An extraordinary film” (Roger Ebert).

Thursday, August 29, 2013
7:00 p.m. The Man from London
Béla Tarr (Hungary, 2007). (A Londoni férfi). Hungarian master of metaphysical melancholy Béla Tarr (Sátántangó, Werckmeister Harmonies) ventures deep into the shadows of film noir with this stately, stunningly photographed adaptation of Simenon’s L'homme de Londres, featuring an intense performance by Tilda Swinton. (132 mins)

Curated in collaboration with Jed Rapfogel at Anthology Film Archives. With thanks to Julie Pearce and Waltraud Loges, National Film Archive/British Film Institute; Fereidoun Mahboubi, CNC; Todd Wiener and Steven Hill, UCLA Film and Television Archive; Mark Johnson, Harvard Film Archive; Denis Bisson and Nora Orallo, Cultural Services, Consulate General of France, San Francisco; Christopher Lane and Michael Horne, Sony Pictures; and the New York Review Books.