The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, August 3-9

Jeanne Moreau in Louis Malle’s ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958). Courtesy Film Forum. Playing Wednesday, August 3 - Thursday, August 11.

Elevator to the Gallows (1957)
Directed by Louis Malle
Sure, the Miles Davis score might be the most cited element when it comes to Elevator to the Gallows placing in some sort of proto-Nouvelle Vague French cinema canon, but while the sad trumpet that travels alongside its main characters is genuinely one of the best scores of all time, it’s just one of the many virtues of this masterpiece. It’s the literal avant-garde (the first wave), a film that came out of the tradition of the American film noir, but was absolutely French, as far as could be from what the Cahiers crowd were describing as cinèma de papa. In many ways it influenced both Breathless and Hiroshima mon amour, but it’s also both and neither at the same time. The film starts contemplative and almost Bressonian, as a man kills his boss using precise movements and careful planning, then it turns into a Hitchcock-style scenario when the assassin gets trapped in an elevator… but the film becomes its own thing, picking up stray plot strands and taking an aimless tone that’s only enhanced by the music and the parallel editing that makes the viewer something akin to a god, watching events without a fixed point of view, wallowing in the sadness and apparent foolishness and clumsiness of the characters. Especially moving are the scenes in which the wife of the killed man wanders the streets, looking for the man who can’t get out of the elevator, her lover, the one she planned the crime with. Her bloodshot eyes and mute demeanor give a powerful romantic thrust you’d think wouldn’t be present in a film springing from such a cruel and cold inciting event. Jaime Grijalba (August 3-11 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)


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