The 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Still More Adventures in Paradise — Part 5

My hotel room is reserved, my plane tickets are purchased, and my traveling companion (my older daughter is going this year!) is secured . . . so you know what that means! Time for another installment in my ongoing series about the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

Now that we’re into 2019, the countdown to this year’s event is truly on – less than two months until the 10th annual TCM Film Festival and the 25-year anniversary of the launch of Turner Classic Movies. This year’s theme is Love at the Movies, which should offer opportunities for a vast array for excellent classic films to explore!

Meanwhile, today’s TCM film festival post takes a look at one of my favorite experiences from last year’s event – the screening of When You Read This Letter (1953), a French-Italian noir starring Phillipe Lemaire and Juliette Gréco. The story focuses on a nun, Thérèse (Gréco), who leaves the convent to care for her younger sister, Denise (Irène Galter), when the siblings’ parents are killed in an automobile accident. Lovingly protective of her innocent and naïve sister, Thérèse is alarmed when Denise becomes involved with a philandering local garage mechanic (Lemaire), and her misgivings turn out to be all too valid when Lemaire sexually assaults Denise. The remainder of the film centers on Thérèse’s efforts to force Lemaire to marry her sister, while at the same time fending off Lemaire’s declarations of love toward her (Thérèse), and the possibility that she may return his feelings. The film kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, and ended with a perfect noir twist that left me with my mouth agape.

Taylor Hackford turned me into a Jean-Pierre Melville fan.

The film was introduced by director Taylor Hackford, who has helmed such features as An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Against All Odds (1984), Delores Claiborne (1995), and Ray (2004). A former president of the Director’s Guild of America, Hackford focused his introduction on the film’s director, Jean-Pierre Melville, telling the audience, “If you’ve ever seen a Melville film, you’ll understand why I’m a Melville fan.”

Melville, described by Hackord as “iconoclastic,” had to “fight his way into the film industry” – after working in the French resistance during World War II, he tried to get a job as an assistant director, but he developed a combative relationship with the industry.

“He wanted to make his own films in his own way,” Hackford said.

Considered to be one of the greatest directors of crime films and father of the “New Wave” in France, Melville directed such acclaimed features as Bob le Flambeur (1956), Le Doulos (1963), with Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Le Samourai (1967), starring Alain Delon. (Before attending this screening, I’d never heard of any of these films, but Hackford made want to dash out into the streets and do whatever I had to do to get my hands on each one.) According to Hackford, Melville was a huge fan of American films, and was especially admiring of the work of Raoul Walsh, director of The Roaring Twenties (1939) and High Sierra (1941). Melville “cut his teeth” on the gangster films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Hackford said. “He was always interested in films that were morally ambiguous. And if you think about gangsters, they are morally ambiguous.”

Thérèse was determined to protect her younger sister — at all costs.

Hackford shared that, although When You Read This Letter was not high on Melville’s personal list of favorites, “it’s so morally ambiguous – so interesting!”

“We all know the femme fatale,” Hackford said. “Melville turned that on its ear. Phillip Lemaire is the femme fatale. Immoral. Ambiguous. He is clearly a manipulator, a womanizer. He knows he’s good looking and he knows he has an ability to deal with women. It’s a fascinating character.” Hackford was also interested in the way Melville took the character of Thérèse – a nun – and caused her integrity to be challenged.

“Melville may not have been in total control,” Hackford said, “but he was the right director.” By the time Hackford finished introducing the film, I was certain that I was in for a cinematic treat – and boy, was I right.

When You Read This Letter is available on DVD from several sellers, including Amazon and Loving the Classics. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly urge you to snag a copy.

You only owe it to yourself. Meanwhile, here’s a trailer for the film to tide you over:

And stay tuned for my next installment of my look at the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

~ by shadowsandsatin on February 18, 2019.

4 Responses to “The 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Still More Adventures in Paradise — Part 5”

  1. Yay! So glad your daughter is coming with you this year! That will be a special trip to remember. 🙂

  2. How neat your daughter is coming, Karen! Looking forward to meeting her!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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