The Femme Fatale in Film Noir Essay

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The end of World War II marked a new generation of cinema in America, and a new, darker film genre called Film Noir began to take over Hollywood. The genre itself translates into “Black Film,” due to the low-key lighting visuals, and common themes revolving around cynicism. Film Noir contained certain thematic elements that greatly differed from other films at the time. Most of the stories revolved around crime and mystery, the protagonist was commonly referred to as an antihero, and all of it seemed to take place inside a bleak world of hopelessness and corruption. Contemporary films that follow the same formula, or pay homage to the classic Film Noir structure are called Neo-Noir films. One of the most common character archetypes within Film Noir is the “fatal female”, more commonly known as the femme fatale. The femme fatale was usually a seductive woman with seemingly malicious intentions, yet her motives may not have been clear. The femme fatale would use her ambiguous charm to influence the male protagonist, and this influence would often lead him into deadly, and compromising situations. Lesser-known female actresses at the time were commonly casted to play the role of the femme fatale, because this way the audience would not judge her character based on her past work. One may argue that this role should always follow these guidelines, however a much deeper and engaging femme fatale can be created by not abiding to the classic standards. Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946), and Kim Basinger in L.A Confidential (1997), are examples of how a non-stereotypical femme fatale can help to enhance the character’s story, as well as the entire film. Prior to the Film Noir wave, women in American cinema were commonly placed second to men, due to the patriarchal society that was considered normal during the time period. The themes of marriage and family were common, however

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