Pépé le moko
B&W, 35mm projection source (courtesy of Institut Francais)
The notorious Pépé le moko (Jean Gabin, in a truly iconic performance) is a wanted man: Women long for him, rivals hope to destroy him, and the law is breathing down his neck at every turn. On the lam in the labyrinthine Casbah of Algiers, Pépé is safe from the clutches of the police — until a Parisian playgirl compels him to risk his life and leave its confines once and for all. Julien Duvivier’s “Pépé le moko” is one of the most influential films of the 20th century and a landmark of French poetic realism.
The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Wilmington raves: “Pépé le moko’ is a timeless romantic thriller that steeps us in one of those great artificial movie worlds that become more overpowering than reality itself. It’s a film with atmosphere so thick and rich you can almost smell it: full of winding fetid streets that steam with spices and intrigue, packed cabarets latticed with smoke and shadows. Directed and co-written by Julien Duvivier, starring Jean Gabin as Pépé, this splendid entertainment is set in ’30s Algiers. But despite extensive location photography, it's not a real city we see here but a noir metropolis, as fantastic as anything in the Arabian Nights.” Wilmington concludes: “‘Pépé le moko,’ despite its pop origins, becomes, like its imitator ‘Casablanca,’ a powerful statement on cultural exile and doomed romance.”
With an introduction and post-film discussion by Robert Garrick, attorney, board member of the French-preservation nonprofit Les Amis, and former contributor to the davekehr.com film blog.