Film Noir and The Argentinian Virgin

Film noir is the name given to a large group of films made principally in the 1940’s and 1950’s though successfully revived in such movies as Chinatown (1974). A major source of its plotlines is crime fiction of the American hard-boiled type that gave us The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. When the genre has been revived, the stories have usually been acted out in the original settings of time and place or with a knowing nod in that direction. Another characteristic of the noir style is the use of strongly contrasted light and shadow, having an origin in German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. It gives noir films their unmistakable and frequently sinister”look”.

In writing The Argentinian Virgin I had a conscious eye to film noir. The American hard-boiled crime novel was a major source for my”voice”. The period in which the book is set fits the style, though not the location of the action except that the Californian ambiance of light and sea translates to the French Riviera. I think the lighting effects of the novel have a noirish feel, particularly those of scenes set in the Villa la Pinède. The most significant omission is the world-weary detective.

One of the most distinctive features of the noir perspective is the prominence given to powerful, manipulative and sexually predatory women, whose uncontrolled desires drive the action. The films have been seen as feminist in recognizing the strength and independence of these female characters, and yet misogynist because in the end they typically get their comeuppance, and so the patriarchal order is restored. In The Argentinian Virgin the role of femme fatale is fulfilled by Teresa Malipiero, who wears black and whom we first see in a hat with a demi veil, symbolizing the fact that her nature is always half hidden from us. That said, I hope that my treatment of her is essentially sympathetic; not least because I happen to like women as people. Certainly I sympathize with the dilemma she is trying to solve and nothing in her motivation is evil.

The relationship between novel and film is further emphasized by the connection of the two art forms through the characters. The narrator, Pat Byrne, has a career working on B movies in California in the late 1940s, and Tom’s film script, The Veiled Woman, in which he tries to present his understanding of what has happened to him, is from its title evidently a film noir.