What is film noir?

Some say that film noir is a self-contained genre; others consider it to be merely a visual style of a specific atmosphere; yet still, according to some other people, it is a historically defined cycle of American movies of the 1940s and 50s. But no matter what point of view we take, film noir will always be a phenomenon fascinating audiences, film makers and film historians from all over the world.

Many people believe that film noir has taken root in a number of national cinemas, particularly in Great Britain, France and Japan. However, no one would argue the fact that in its purest form it appeared in the Hollywood production of the 1940s and 50s. At that point in time, film noir became a fitting way of expressing war anxiety, post-war depression and the pervasive, tense atmosphere of Cold War paranoia.

Film noir has always explored the limits of stylistic and narrative techniques of mainstream cinema. The films engaged in examinations of the play of light and shadow (from this year’s program for instance The Crooked Way), retrospective voice-over narration (The Man Who Wasn’t There), complicated and ambiguous plots (Somewhere in the Night), or pessimistic and hopeless conclusions (Storm Warning). As such, film noir became an alternative to the typical Hollywood escapist films.

A lot of people have failed in their attempts to find a link between all noir films. There is no doubt that film noir became a difficult genre to classify because of the number of different influences it absorbed: German expressionism of the 1920s, French poetic realism of the 30s, Warner Bros. gangster movies of the early sound era, Orson Welles’ formal innovations in The Citizen Kane, hard-boiled crime stories of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and David Goodis, photojournalism, and somewhat later, war newsreels and Italian neorealism, among others. Film noir does not have clear boundaries, but that is part of its charm. Upon hearing the term, one can imagine nearly anything. That is why it became so popular and widely known – because film noir evokes a number of different meanings and opinions, no compromise, satisfactory for all, will ever be found.

Jana Bébarová & Milan Hain


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