With the North Carolina Museum of Art attracting large crowds for its Monet in Normandy exhibit, museum officials are hoping that patrons coming out for the paintings will stay for its new film series.

MASTERS OF FRENCH CINEMA, which started on Oct. 20 with Jules and Jim, features nine films reflecting the diversity of French filmmaking throughout the 20th century.

This Friday’s selection is Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), a 1958 crime drama directed by Louis Malle (Pretty Baby, Atlantic City, My Dinner with Andre). This is a newly restored 35 mm print, located by the museum’s film curator Laura Boyes (who is also an Indy contributor).

Gallows, Malle’s first fictional feature after the Jacques Cousteau documentary The Savage World, stars screen legend Jeanne Moreau in a dark and ironic tale of murder, adultery and very, very bad luck. According to co-curator Devin Orgeron, Elevator to the Gallows is a marvelous meeting of French and American sensibilities. “It perfectly captures the spirit of the movement, a spirit that began to take shape just after WWII when the influence of American popular culture was beginning to make itself felt in Paris,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Orgeron, an assistant professor of Film Studies at N.C. State University, will be among the experts introducing the films in the series to help provide audiences with historical context about each film, its director and its cast. Much of Gallows‘ continuing reputation is due to the Miles Davis jazz score, which Orgeron calls “tense and brilliant.”

“Those of us who are both film fans and jazz fans dream about what those largely improvised sessions might have been like,” Orgeron said. “The score’s fit within a film that thinks, sometimes obliquely, about the influence of American culture is part of its magic.”

Masters of French Cinema
N.C. Museum of Art through Dec. 15

Upcoming films in the series, which will be held each Friday, include Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937, runs on Nov. 3), a tale of prisoners of war that was suppressed by the Nazis upon its original release; the lyrical romance L’Atalante (1934, runs on Nov. 17); the 2001 hit Amélie (Nov. 24); and Jacques Tati’s classic 1958 visual comedy Mon Oncle (Dec. 8).

On Friday, Nov. 10, fans of the Monet in Normandy exhibit can see a different, more contemporary view of the Normandy coast with Pauline at the Beach, a 1983 study of relationships by Eric Rohmer.

Museum Director of Arts and Film Programs George Holt said one of his personal favorites in the series was Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959), which runs on Dec. 1.

Holt praised Bresson’s style of filmmaking, which employed nonprofessional actors and emphasized an almost documentary style of storytelling.

On Dec. 15, the museum’s fall French series will conclude with an American film, the 1951 Gene Kelly classic An American in Paris. The film was included in the series because its climactic ballet takes its inspiration from the Impressionist paintings featured in the Monet exhibit.

Masters of French Cinema runs each Friday through Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. at the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Museum Auditorium. Tickets are available at the museum box office at $5 per film and $35 for a season pass. Students, NCMA members and Cinema Inc. members may purchase tickets for $3.50 or a season pass for $25. For more information, call 715-5923 or visit www.ncartmuseum.org/events/films.shtml.