Nicolas Seydoux (Gaumont)
More has been written about Jeanne Moreau than about any other French actress, with the exception of Brigitte Bardot. Celebrated as the grande dame of cinema in France, she also embodies a seductive idea of French femininity particularly powerful outside France. […] The cinema of the nouvelle vague, of which Ascenseur pour l’échafaud and Les Amants were forerunners, required a new model of stardom to differentiate it from the mainstream. The nouvelle vague foregrounded authenticity, youth and modernity, and demanded similar qualities from its actors. Moreau epitomised this anti-stardom, and she and Malle downplayed her previous career and emphasised the idea of her ‘rebirth’. Moreau herself was keen to work on a more informal basis, with the crew as a kind of family engaged in more craftsmanlike methods. As she said to “Cahiers du cinéma” in January 1965, “Making films is no longer a way of acting, it is a way of life”. Moreau also brought to the screen a more authentic physical type, less overtly sexy than Bardot, Carol or Monroe yet still glamorous. From Ascenseur, Moreau was also at the centre of a shift in the representation of female eroticism – from the body to the face – that would characterise the post-war art cinema of Bergman, Antonioni and Godard as well as the work of more recent directors such as Léos Carax. […] From the huge close-up that opens Ascenseur, Moreau’s face connotes interiority and soulfulness. The discreet make-up and the bags under her eyes proclaim authenticity; the full sensual mouth with its down-turned corners speaks of a bruised, tragic sexuality (as opposed to Bardot’s playful pout). Moreau’s mouth, close to the telephone, also draws attention to her voice, a mixture of weariness and sensuality, solemnity and fun. Moreau was perceived as modern woman. Smoking and drinking, she strolled the fashionable European locations of the time – Paris, the Côte d’Azur, Venice, Rome – often to a soundtrack of cool jazz.
Ginette Vincendeau, The Indiscreet Charm of Jeanne Moreau, “Sight & Sound”, n. 12, December 1998
By 1957 Hollywood had woken up to the potential of jazz musicians as sources of atmospheric soundtracks for movies about drug addicts and crooked press agents, but it took a 24-year-old French director making his first film to recognise the potent reaction that could occur through a more organic relationship between film noir and the sound of modern jazz. It was Louis Malle who, with Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, blended the ingredients together in perfect proportions. One of those films that foreshadowed the nouvelle vague, and a striking debut for its young director, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud possesses a third layer of significance: it proved to be a turning point in the musical history of Miles Davis, the great trumpeter who supplied Malle with his soundtrack while on tour with his group in France. […] Malle had finished shooting by the time Davis arrived in France. Davis was looking beyond the orthodox routines of jazz, searching a way to escape the formal limitations of the Broadway popular song and the 12-bar blues, which provided his regular band’s repertoire, and towards a less restrictive form of improvisation based on scales and modes. Providentially, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud gave him the opportunity to try out a new approach. Davis had wanted to know about the plot and the characters, and the director provided him a few ideas about the kind of music he had in mind. The musicians improvised to the looped scenes, using the sketches of melody, harmony and rhythm that Davis had provided. Within four hours, the job had been completed and the moody elegance of Miles Davis’s trumpet would become as distinctive a feature of the film as Moreau’s cool gaze or the scenes of night-time Paris so perfectly captured by Malle’s cinematographer, Henri Decaë.
Richard Williams, All that Jazz, “Sight & Sound”, n. 2, February 2014
Cast and Credits
Sog.: Noël Calef. Scen.: Louis Malle, Roger Nimier. Dial.: Roger Nimier. F.: Henri Decaë. M.: Léonide Azar. Scgf.: Rino Mondellini, Jean Mandaroux. Mus.: Miles Davis. Int.: Maurice Ronet (Julien Tavernier), Jeanne Moreau (Florence Carala), Jean-Claude Brialy (un giovane), Georges Poujouly (Louis), Yori Bertin (Véronique), Jean Wall (Simon Carala), Ivan Petrovitch (Monsieur Bencker), Félix Marten (Christian Subervie), Lino Ventura (il commissario Cherrier), Elga Andersen (la signora Elga Bencker). Prod.: Nouvelles Éditions de Films · DCP. Bn.
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