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a confection of great visual flair,
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This review is from: Judex/Nuits Rouges [Masters of Cinema] [DVD]  (DVD)
Despite the billing George Franju was not a great director. He has a certain visual flair, and within his limits he can produce intensely memorable images and sequences, but he has absolutely no ability to direct actors or ensure a satisfactory narrative. He did not produce a consistent body of great films. But he did however produce a handful of masterpieces.
Judex is a film I saw at the University film society back in the early eighties, and it stuck in my memory ever since. I did not realise at the time just how odd a film it was, it was filmed in 1963 in black and white, with a narrative that harks back to earlier film serials, in fact it is the second remake of a 1916 film. The DVD cover indicates what is the best sequence in the film, a man with a bird's head mask enters a masked ball, filled with other similarly bird's headed guests. The music by Maurice Jarre is outstanding. The sequence can be tracked down on Youtube.
Judex avenges injustice, in this case a corrupt banker. However having started off strongly, he becomes increasingly ineffective and irrelevant, the focus shifts to the pert Francine Berge, dressed in skin tight black or as a nun, ruthless in the extreme. The story lurches about never making much sense, or losing your interest. However it is after the film has finished that it really starts to work its magic. Sequences that seemed contrived start to become iconic and memorable. True enough there is precious little acting in the film, but the cast are striking and attractive, while not called upon to do much, it is unlike anything you have ever seen before. It has a dreamlike logic all of its own.
The other film Nuits Rouges, from 1974, was also filmed as a tv serial though this is a film in its own right, albeit not an entirely convincing one. There is no point being tactful about it, by and large the acting would not have been out of place in a Benny Hill sketch. Although the production values are pretty high for the 1970s, the whole thing feels cheap. The plot is about a masked master criminal pursuing hidden treasure from the Knights Templar. The actors are a random assortment, Gert Frobe, from Goldfinger, and Gayle Hunnicut who is attractive but wooden. The characters are a similarly random assortment, including a poet detective who seems to add very little to the plot. As with Judex there are some striking scenes, but whereas Judex had a dreamlike logic, Nuits Rouge just feels shoddy. This sort of thing was far better done in Danger Diabolik [DVD].
In fairness you never quite lose interest in Nuits Rouges, but it is no masterpiece.
For your money you get two DVDs, and a decent booklet packed with some reverential interviews.
George Franju deserves to be remembered, but like Sidney Furie of The Ipcress File [DVD] not all his films do.