Judex (France, 1963):

The ferocious poetics of Georges Franju's style have silent-film purity -- the use of pre-Griffith iconography studding many of his feature movies is no fashionable Nouvelle Vague hommage, but an artist acknowledging his stylistic roots and pondering their validity in modern times. Having already paid his respects to the original master conjurer in Le Grand Méliès, he channels another one of French cinema's hand-cranked giants, Louis Feuillade, by remaking his 1916 caped-avenger serial. Actually, the eponymous crime-fighter (played by American magician Channing Pollock) is only one strand in the dense pulp-fiction web that, funneling the original's five-hour narrative into a barely 105-minute running time, achieves its own flowing choreography. Irising in on Judex's scheme to kidnap the unscrupulous banker Favraux (Michel Vitold), it traces the purposefully anachronistic theatrics of Favraux's fragile daughter Jacqueline (Edith Scob), bumbling detective Cocantin (Jacques Jouanneau), sprightly acrobat Daisy (Sylvia Koscina) and, most formidably, sexy villainess Diana Monti (Francine Bergé). There are disguises, night raids and rooftop chases, though, as in Feuillade, Franju's lenses remain cool even as the action gets more delirious. Judex's first appearance, resurrecting doves at a costume ball while decked in a majestic bird mask, is an astonishing visual epiphany, yet the movie's vitality lies with Bergé's Diana, whose energy, whether climbing walls in tights or masquerading as a nun, puts the story's WWI-era patriarchy in '60s perspective. The picture's reverence notwithstanding, the two filmmakers are virtual polar opposites -- where the old master used documentary aesthetics to record the extraordinary, Franju filters the ordinary through the gauze of ominous lyricism. The results contain all the fascinating tensions that the collision implies. Cinematography by Marcel Fradetal. Music by Maurice Jarre. With Théo Sarapo, René Génin, and Benjamin Boda. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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