News from the Locarno Festival

Out of the Norm

Out of the Past – Retrospettiva

Out of the Norm


© Beta Film / Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt-KINEOS Collection


If noir has been, since the beginning, a genre open to aesthetic experimentation by filmmakers like John Huston and Howard Hawks, Jacques Tourneur with Out of the Past brought this creative process to the highest levels, adding a personal taste for narrative digression gathered from his European background. Since the beginning the movie plays with two opposite ideas: the oppressive claustrophobia of American metropolis versus the spacious freedom of the rest of the world. Noir rules are applied in all their expressive power in the scenes which are set in San Francisco and especially those in New York: interiors are always dark, cut by clearly expressionist beams of light, places where vice and violence stand crouching, waiting to explode. On the other side, the Mexican setting and the small countryside village where the movie starts are vast sunny places, opening Out of the Past to a vivacious contamination turning it in a noir capable to explore new, different ways into the genre. Tourneur, free from the cages of “art movies” – at that time the idea of author was way less binding – becomes paradoxically even more personal and daring in mixing tones and points of view. The work on the protagonist Jeff/Robert Mitchum’s costumes for example represents metaphorically the different stages of the character, most importantly his two split souls: the urban and corrupted one opposite to the honest rural one. Tourneur’s opera is a continuous flux of visual and narrative solutions, surprising and unexpected, which makes Out of the Past one of the great masterpieces form the ’40.


Adriano Ercolani

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