Noir City International (Virtual) Film Festival: PALE FLOWER, RUSTY KNIFE and ASHES AND DIAMONDS

Our globetrotting Noir-stravaganza continues. First Japan, then Poland.

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First up PALE FLOWER. The damn pandemic (shakes fist at sky) stopped me from seeing this one in the theater back in March, which is a real tragedy because I would have loved to see it on the big screen. Here’s my original write up.

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Another story about a man and a woman connecting in a fiercely sexual and deeply twisted way over an ostensibly non-sexual pastime. In this case, gambling.

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A Yakuza hit man gets released from prison and gets mixed up with a beautiful and mysterious young woman he meets at a gambling parlor. She seems determined to chase higher stakes and bigger thrills in a self destructive downward spiral, and he seems more than willing to go down with her.

Oddly enough, I had already seen this one because my mother’s partner was obsessed with it and with the beautiful card game it features, called Hanafuda.

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This is a visually striking and coolly seductive stunner of a film. It’s available through Criterion and Mistress Christa says check it out.

Another thing I want to mention that really stood out on repeat viewing is the soundtrack, a hypnotic melange of shuffling cards and rhythmic clicking and the sing-song chants that go along with the game all mingling and blending into the moody, modern score.

Everything about this one gets better and better each time I watch it. Like last night I suddenly found myself wondering if this fashion choice was a deliberate call back to OUT OF THE PAST.

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Next up, we leave the slick, jazzy 60s and head back to the 50s with RUSTY KNIFE.

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An ex-con returns home after doing time for killing the man who raped and killed his girlfriend. He tries to go straight, but this is Noir City, and we all know how well that plan usually works out.

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There’s also a young bartender and his sexy girlfriend who get thrown into the mix, mostly to play into the “wild youth” cinematic trend that was popular at the time, but I found that I was more interested in their subplot than the story of the main guy.

As a Film Noir fan, this one felt way more like home to me. The look of it, the style, even the dull, docu-noir voice over at the beginning. There’s mobsters, corruption, violence, revenge, and plenty of complex and conflicted characters. It definitely felt more workman-like than the stylish PALE FLOWER, kinda like the B title in an A/B programming double. No real surprises in the plot, but plenty to love for hardcore Noiristas like me.

Incidentally, there’s also a Jô Shishido (BRANDED TO KILL) cameo at the beginning, though he gets tossed off a train for snitching in the first act.

Noir City mood, forever.

For the last film in the line up, we’re on to Poland with ASHES AND DIAMONDS.

Let me get this out of the way first. I don’t like political films, noir or otherwise. It’s just not my jam and as usual, your milage may vary.

But DAMN this flick is a fucking knockout. Every frame is so stunning that I honestly didn’t care what it was about. I was happy to just drink it all in and follow along with the young hipster hit-man as he tumbles through the ravaged post-war Polish landscape with his equally cynical barmaid lover on what has to be the goth-est date of all time.

Eddie Muller mentioned in his intro that Zbigniew Cybulski, AKA the Polish James Dean, refused to wear period costumes and insisted on wearing his own hip but anachronistic threads, including these iconic shades.

He also has his shirt off. A lot.

But I do give the writer credit for adding a line about how the character has to wear shades all the time because he spent so much time in the dark sewers during the war.

Eddie Muller also said that he wasn’t sure whether or not this movie qualifies as Film Noir. After watching it, I’m not entirely sure either. I mean, yes it has a down ending, but that’s not all it takes to make a story feel like noir to me. After all, there are plenty of classic noir flicks that have gratuitous Hays Code placating happy endings. And this story doesn’t seem to center around the traditional matrix of twisted lust, deception and self-destructive impulses that make up the building blocks of what I think of as noir. It’s more like grim, existential angst from start to finish with only a fleeting moment of pleasure that we all know won’t last. No one makes bad choices, gets worked for a sucker or gives in to their worst instincts. It’s just that everything is fucked from the get go and that’s just the way the world is and of course you’re gonna die alone, because we all do.

That being said, it’s absolutely beautiful and a real triumph of the filmmaker’s art and you should see it, noir or not.

That’s it for this round, Faustketeers. We’ll be doing single shots for these upcoming weekdays, so next up is A WOMAN’S FACE. Watch along with me and join in the discussion on Twitter.

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