Noir in Snow

Mont Blanc tunnel Throughout the opening three days of the Courmayeur Noir in Fest, snow plows were busy clearing the streets of the picture postcard ski resort, creating mini mountains and snow walls of up to 10 ft high on either side of the narrow roads, which the delegates had to maneuver their way through between visits to the Palanoir complex where the films were shown and the rustic, wooden Jardin de l’Ange which served as a showcase for the literary events and press conferences. The icy roads occasioned many a spectacular slip and fall, and also a broken wrist for Stefania, the head of the Hospitality service. A heavy price to pay for the spectacular beauty of the festival’s Alpine landscapes…

The Jardin de l’Ange was packed for the lengthy conversation between Michael Connelly, this year’s winner of the Raymond Chandler Award, and leading Italian crime writer Carlo Lucarelli. It turned out to be a fascinating encounter in which the dialogue flowed, despite the inevitable simultaneous translation delays. Many of Mike’s fascinating answers to the obligatory questions were of course no surprise for English-speakers in the audience but Lucarelli did manage to extract some great nuggets, such as the admission that the character of Harry Bosch was in fact inspired by a combination of the real life story of James Ellroy and Sjowall & Wahloo’s Martin Beck. Not coincidentally, Maj Sjowall was also in town, hearty despite her age and here for the reissue of THE LOCKED ROOM in Italy. Sadly, she no longer writes these says, but was accessible, puckish and most alert to recent developments in crime fiction (she is definitely not a fan of the Stieg Larsson books, for example…). One of the curious highlights of the Connelly event was a bizarre intervention from the floor from the irrepressible Italian author Andrea G. Pinketts, one of the more colorful (for want of another word…) personalities of the local crime scene, who insisted on thanking Michael for having assisted him in once seducing a young woman on a beach, as she had observed him reading THE POET, and, from the title of Mike’s novel, had assumed Andrea was a particularly sensitive man as a result! We also learned that Mike had recently been able to view a rough cut of the forthcoming movie of THE LINCOLN LAWYER, with Matthew McConnaughey as Mickey Haller, and is genuinely proud of the adaptation; the film will be released in spring 2011. On the Friday evening, Connelly was presented with the award, a replica of the legendary Brasher Doubloon, prior to the evening’s screening of the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s NEVER LET ME GO, directed by Mark Romanek and featuring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. Although barely on the borderlines of noir, this is a measured and moving film with a quiet beauty and sadness (and which I’d seen at the opening of the London Film Festival in October) and I was shocked later in the week to see it ignored by the jury.

wine them up
Other new authors to make the Courmayeur pilgrimage during the second half of the festival included fellow Mulholland blogger Roger Ellory (who confessed to a criminal record, for poaching when he was only seventeen amongst other fascinating disclosures about his writing), Norwegian ex-Justice Minister Anne Holt, French author Gerard de Cortanze, Italian duo Paolo di Reda and Flavia Ermetes who appear to offer an Italian equivalent to the Dan Brown mega-conspiracy blockbusters and Andrea Villani, and British film expert Alex Ballinger, author of THE ROUGH GUIDE TO FILM NOIR. In the spirit of Courmayeur, many new friendships and invaluable contacts were carved between the vino, the pasta and the Xmas bedecked restaurants and bars. Most of the newcomers took the time off for the traditional three cable car trek to the very top of Mont Blanc, which I passed on this time around, having done it some years back with Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason and Italian movie directors the Manetti Bros; an unforgettable experience, which Roger Ellory has already documented in an expansive photo album on his Facebook page, for those of you on his friends list!

The film competition continued, with screenings of J. Blakeson’s gripping three-hander THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED, which won the festival’s audience award. The young English director was present (with wife and 4 month-old baby…) and was genuinely delighted at the reception of his debut movie. Daniel Leconte, the producer of the controversial CARLOS, a six hour saga of the Carlos the Jackal story, directed by Olivier Assayas, was also on hand to introduce the screenings over three separate days. Italian thriller AT THE END OF THE DAY by Cosimo Alema only got a tepid response, and Spanish psycho-shocker JULIA’S EYES by Guillem Morales, produced by Guillermo del Toro, got a mixed response, a variation on the blind woman in peril which, for me, accumulated too many clichés, evil looks and reds herrings along the way, but was a definite crowd pleaser. The surprise winner of the Leone Nero turned out to be the Argentinian film CARANCHO, by Paolo Trapero, featuring his wife Martina Gusman. The tale of a crooked insurance adjuster who is involved in fixing bogus car accidents and personal injuries and falls in love with a nurse, this is a good, and somewhat depressing film, with much power, but I found its relentless miserabilism a tad manipulative. Stellan Skarsgard won the best actor award for his part in the opening day film I’d missed.

Noir in Fest is not just the main film competition and the literary events and encounters. In addition to these, there were a series of documentaries on a variety of criminal subjects, retrospectives including a new print of Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and a screening of the festival’s first ever winner 20 years ago, Stephen Gyllenhal’s PARIS TROUT, a photography exhibition at the local museum of portraits of the many crime writers who have been to Courmayeur over the years as well as an important TV strand, which featured two Patricia Cornwell adaptations, THE FRONT and AT RISK, both directed by Tom McLoughlin, the BBC’ s LUTHER, with Idris Elba as the unorthodox London cop created by Neil Cross and many Italian super-hero shows of the 1960s and beyond.

One particularly enterprising screening was of I NOIR D’ARTISTA, a series of six short films, most no longer than 5 minutes each, produced for Italian TV, looking at the dark side of famous creators (Bacon, Modigliani,

Chet Baker, William Burroughs, Verlaine, Rimbaud, etc…) each one written by a leading Italian crime author, including Simona Vinci, Giancarlo de Cataldo, this year’s Scerbanenco winner Elisabeta Bucciarelli, Alessandro Perissinotto and Marcello Fois. And, last but not least, the Mini Noir festival, with a whole week of screenings, workshops, previews and events for a younger audience.

I keep on coming back to Courmayeur year after year and intend to continue doing so. Not only is it one of the friendliest festivals around, but it somehow always manages to get the balance right between formal events and fostering a continuous dialogue between writers, critics, film makers and fans of the noir genre. I hope many of you will consider coming in future years. After all, not only are all events free, but you get much wine, gourmet food, laughter and a week in the mountains just a couple of weeks before Xmas in magical surroundings. Come on, you know it makes sense…

Maxim Jakubowski is a British writer and editor, once responsible for the Black Box Thrillers and Blue Murder imprints, and owner of London’s Murder One bookstore. He now edits the MaxCrime list for John Blake Publishing and the annual Mammoth Book of Best British Crime Stories, already in its ninth year. His latest books are Following the Detectives, a travel guide to fictional mystery locations, and a new novel, I Was Waiting For You. He lives in London.