La Nuit du Carrefour (1932 – France): Moody and surreal!

La Nuit de carrefour

In this early Jean Renoir film with a magically delicious femme-noir and a brilliant car chase at night, were sewn the seeds of French poetic realism that flourished later in the 30s in the films of Marcel Carné and others.

La Nuit du Carrefour is a largely faithful adaption of Georges Simenon’s gloomy pulp policier ‘Maigret at the Crossroads’.  Renoir in a television introduction to the movie in the early 60s said the screenplay is deliberately episodic and the rough-edges exaggerate the obscurity of the story to create an atmosphere of mystery.  A review of the film in Time Out says the rough edges come from Renoir running out of cash before completion, while a story put about by Godard says that some footage is missing.  It is a moot point though as the picture is great as is.

The cinematography of Georges Asselin and Marcel Lucien is dark and brooding, with foggy rural night scenes infiltrating even interior shots.  An exhilarating car-chase at night filmed from the pursuing car in real-time uses only the car headlights, and is an exemplar of the creative fusion of director, camera, and editor.  The editor is Renoir’s wife, Marguerite.

Is placement of the off-kilter ‘virginal’ portrait deliberate?

In the film, a city detective investigates a murder in a small rural burg, with suspicion surrounding the strange foreign tenants of a mysterious house: a bizarre ménage comprising a stoned b-girl and her reclusive ‘brother’, who as a foreigner with a weak alibi is the immediate suspect.  The girl Else, played to delicious perfection by Danish actress, Winna Winifried, steals the picture. Renoir has aptly described Else as a ‘bizarre gamin’. You want Else to be in every scene – she is stunning and her turn is so lascivious. While in the book Else has more depth and is certainly less screwy, I think I prefer her screwy and sexy! Particularly memorable is the ambivalence of the relationship between Else and the detective, played by Renoir’s brother, Pierre, which is woven into the mis-en-scene with erotic abandon and casual elegance.  My poetic homage to Else is here.

The story plays as a classic who-done-it, but by the end the veneer of the bucolic ville is stripped away to reveal a rotten reality where almost all residents, both workers and bourgeois, are complicit in a drug-trafficking racket, that segued into murder over the loot from a jewel heist.  The irony is that the early suspect, Else’s brother, is innocent, while Else has been trapped by her past into a forced complicity that will see her released from jail early.

If you like your noir dark, sexy, mysterious and sharply witty, go for it!

4 thoughts on “La Nuit du Carrefour (1932 – France): Moody and surreal!”

  1. Bonjour! Tony,
    Unfortunately, I have never watched Jean Renoir’s La Nuit de Carrefour but after reading your review I most definitely, will seek it out to watch…I wonder if it’s available on DVD?

    By the way, I have already retwittered(Sp) your homage to Else…I will now retwitter this post and send it over to Tumblr too!

    Merci, for sharing!
    DeeDee 😉

    Tony said,”Is placement of the off-kilter ‘virginal’ portrait deliberate?”
    I have never watched this film, but after reading your review I would think so…


  2. “In this early Jean Renoir film with a magically delicious femme-noir and a brilliant car chase at night, were sewn the seeds of French poetic realism that flourished later in the 30s in the films of Marcel Carné and others.”

    You actually state the most vital issue right here at the start of this exceedingly excellent review, which with the newer post makes two great posts in a row. As I had stated on a previous thread, I was somewhat confused by the uneven narrative at some point, which would seem to indicate that Godard was onto something. But I am now seriously beginning to believe that I am the one who missed something here. I’ve rarely been this insecure about my opinion of any film, and the only real panacea here would be to give this an ultra-attentive repeat viewing. I can appreciate what you say here about Asselin and Lucien’s poetic photography (I couldn’t agree with you more) and there’s no doubt it’s dark and sexy.

    Hence what I might be seeing as cryptic, may be the purposeful sense of mystery you assert here. But heck, Jean Renoir is one of the supreme geniuses of the cinema, (and a fillmaker I adore) so where am I going here? Ha!


  3. Hi DeeDee. Thanks for for your support. Yes, the movie is out on DVD. My query of the portrait in the background was prompted only after I cropped the source image, and the placement of the portrait was more evident, and after reading a while back how a painting by a famous Mexican Marxist painter appeared in similar fashion in three Hollywood noirs, including the infamous The Woman on Pier 13 (1949).

    Thank you kindly Sam. I think a second viewing will bring a greater appreciation of the film.


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