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The rain never stops falling in Yves Allegret’s Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (Such a Pretty Little Beach), one of the highlights of “I Wake Up Dreaming 2012: The French Have a Name For It!.” Elliot Lavine’s latest film noir series that runs Friday, May 11 through Thursday, May 24 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. A resort town in the off-season provides the backdrop for a cursed man’s inexorable reckoning with fate, but even if Pierre (Gerard Philipe) arrived at the height of summer, no postcard vista or warming sunlight could cut through the gloom that is Pierre’s constant companion or alter his destiny.

Allegret’s melodrama is a triumph of mood. Like Burt Lancaster’s Swede at the start of Robert Siodmak’s The Killers, Pierre is done for and he knows it. He’s on the run, more out of reflex it seems than anything else. Why he has chosen to flee to this sad corner of Normandy is murky at first, but his reaction to Georges (Andre Valmy), a teenager working around the hotel where Pierre is hiding out provides a clue. Just what he’s done is also a little vague until the landlady starts gossiping about a sensational story in the newspaper and begins playing a certain record that only further distresses Pierre. The tale of a youth corrupted and destroyed comes out in bits and pieces, and becomes more clear once Fred (Jean Servais), another visitor from Paris arrives.

Looking at the windswept, desolate beach, it’s easy to wonder if Une Si Jolie Petite Plage was on Francois Truffaut’s mind, however subconsciously, when he was writing the end of The 400 Blows, leaving Antoine Doinel frozen on the beach, his future a question mark. Certainly, Pierre’s fortunes were sealed when he couldn’t have been very much older than Antoine. Philipe is perfectly cast as that lost boy grown into a broken man who can’t imagine any future at all.

As noirs go, they don’t come much bleaker than this. Allegret complements Pierre’s distress with the rain, the pacing, and the views of the dismal shore and village (lensed by Henri Alekan, the cinematographer who shot Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast and Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire). The effect is to create a sense of an ending foretold and yet even knowing what is surely coming does not lessen the suspense nor alter the impact of the conclusion. This pretty little beach is a passageway to the heart of darkness and it is a trip well worth taking. — Pam Grady

Une Si Jolie Petite Plage (Such a Pretty Little Beach), screens on Sunday, May 13 as part of “I Wake Up Dreaming 2012: The French Have a Name For It!” at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street, San Francisco. For tickets or further information, visit roxie.com.

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