The hallmarks of screenwriter Michel Audiard – slang-laden dialogue, absurd situations and explosive confrontations – are all in evidence in Gilles Grangier’s “The Night Affair” (“Le Désordre et la nuit”), screening at the Lumière Film Festival as part of the program marking the centenary of Audiard’s birth.
The celebration features 18 films scripted by Audiard, one of his directorial efforts, “Don’t Take God’s Children for Wild Geese,” a pastiche of the hardboiled detective thrillers made famous by French publishing imprint Série Noire, and a new documentary on his life, “Le Terminus des prétentieux,” helmed by Sylvain Perret, wherein Gaumont opens their archives to reveal some undiscovered gems from the scenarist’s career.
There is also a new book containing three of his screenplays, “Blood to the Head,” “Maigret Sets a Trap,” and “Inspector Maigret and The President” – presented as part of the Lumière Institute/Actes Sud collection, in collaboration with Audiard’s son, the Palme d’Or winning director Jacques Audiard, and his grandson, novelist Stéphane Audiard.
At the heart of the centennial is a selection of the celebrated films starring Jean Gabin, written by Audiard and directed by Grangier, which in addition to “The Night Affair” includes “Blood to the Head” (1956), “The Counterfeiters of Paris” (1961) and “The Gentleman from Epsom” (1962).
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Gérald Duchaussoy, director of Cannes Classics, says he was particularly excited by the screening of “The Night Affair” because it’s “a mean thriller with a unique vision of French society. “The Night Affair” explores the darkness of the human soul and is led by a magnificent Gabin and an opaque Danièle Darrieux. The film deserves to be rediscovered as it is a hidden gem from French post-war Noir.”
The screenplay is adapted from the 1955 novel of the same name by Jacques Robert, the only Western journalist to descend into Hitler’s bunker. It starts in a popular jazz club on the Champs-Élysées called L’Œuf. The customers are white and the musicians are black. Hazel Scott, the Trinidadian-born jazz and classical pianist, is the main attraction. The owner, Albert Simoni (Roger Hanin). goes for a drive with his young German mistress Lucky (Nadja Tiller); he steps out from the car in the Bois de Boulogne and is shot dead.
Enter Vallois (Gabin), a world-weary police inspector. His oversized coat is hiding his spreading girth, which provides the punchline of a joke when he steps on some weighing scales in the pharmacy run by Thérèse Marken (Darrieux). Vallois realises that Lucky is a junky, and wonders how she can afford her luxury room at the George V Hotel.
“The Night Affair” features the kind of shady characters that would make Audiard such a prominent feature of the French cultural scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s before his death in 1985, aged 65. They are all out for themselves, motivated by jealousy, addiction and self-interest.
There is little in the way of sentimentality and sympathy, as Vallois embarks on an affair with Lucky while busting a drug-ring and solving the murder. While the plot seems to have been written on a cigarette packet, the strength of the picture comes from the character’s loose morals, the tawdry worldview and the sharp comic dialogue that all helped make Audiard one of the most celebrated screenwriters in French cinema history.