To understand Neo-noir, we might first need to look at what Film Noir used to be. During the 1940s and 50s in America, there was a shift in the mood of the films that were being made. The movies made during the war time and post-war time have a different quality to them. They were no longer all that optimistic and utopian. The “American Dream” seemed to be failing and the movies of this era reflected that change. They were darker and more cynical than the movies made before them. Their frames show the influence of German Expressionism. You can watch movies like Double Indemnity, You Only Live Once, Touch Of Evil, The Maltese Falcon to get a taste of what Film Noir meant.
Of course, like most things, this genre and many of these movies were not well received during their time. They were dismissed by their contemporary American critics. Slowly, however, with the growth of Cinema/Film Studies in universities and film clubs, a new generation was introduced to these movies. And they found much to like and appreciate. Film Noir received the status it has now due to the efforts of the young critics of the 1970s and 80s. But there was something missing from this genre and Neo-Noir sought to address this.
Film Noir movies were made during a time when there were strict codes of conduct and rules about what could or could not be shown on screen. They very much stuck to the morality of their times, despite trying to show the darker and cynical side of things. Neo-noir movies try to go against these strict codes and rules that American filmmakers before them had taken to heart. They reflected the distrust of authority and pessimism of the age they were living in. While the style could be said to be similar, Neo-noir stretched its boundaries and tried to show more in their films than just the psychological troubles of their protagonists. Neo-noir was more outward looking, they moved from the psychological to the sociological, in a manner of speaking.
While Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless could be called the pioneer of the Neo-noir movement, the American movement saw its beginnings with Chinatown. Some other movies that will showcase the diverse range that exists within Neo-noir include Mulholland Drive, Memento, Sin City and so on. While they mostly tackle themes related to crime, upon watching a few of these films you will be able to clearly see other similar threads, tropes and stylistic devices used. Fans of more popular movies and actors can try out movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that has Robert Downey Jr. in the lead, The Departed that has Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, or even shows like Jessica Jones to get a taste of Neo-noir.
The Tamil industry has seen a slew of very critically acclaimed and popular Neo-noir films that will show you how directors were able to adeptly adapt this genre for their audiences. Aaranya Kaandam, Soodhu Kavvum, Jigarthanda, Vikram Vedha are some Tamil movies that have either subscribed or subverted the understanding of Neo-Noir. For the Bollywood crowd, Anurag Kashyap could be hailed as one of the main directors of Neo-noir movies. Some of Bollywood’s offerings to the Neo-noir school of films include Johnny Gaddaar, No Smoking, Company, Gangs of Wasseypur and so on. Of course, Netflix’s own Sacred Games can also be considered to be in the vein of Neo-noir.
Most of the movies mentioned are available to stream on various Indian streaming services as well. So, maybe, now is a good time as any to do a marathon of these movies and educate yourself on one of the most stylistically relevant and creative film movements of our times. Go ahead and enjoy the subversive beauty and raw attractiveness of the Neo-noir.