Entries tagged with “Jean-Pierre Melville”.


What a delight! I remember having seen Le Samouraï as a teenager 50 years ago, during the short few years of ideological and artistic de-icing of the Romanian communist regime between 1964 and 1968, when some of the world cinema crossed the Iron Curtain and hopes to re-connect Romania and Eastern Europe with the rest of the world were growing high. These hopes were cut short by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the melting of the Iron Curtain postponed by more than 20 years. Yet, in that period, a few fine movies were allowed to be seen in the East (some of them ‘shortened’ the scissors of censorship) and this lot included this fine gangster movie, a capitalist product with no moral message, not one that could be explained to the revolutionary masses in any case.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062229

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062229

 

Half a century later I had the feeling to live again some of the sensations at the first screening. I remembered the dark room, the smoke of the cigarette, the tweets of the bird, the raincoat and the hat. ‘s look. ‘s sex appeal. ‘s mystery. The Citroen car and the garage where number plates were switched. The streets of Paris which for me at that time looked like a city from another planet, a place I will never be able to put the feet in.

 

(video source astraydogfilm)

 

Of course, I have learned a few things about cinema in this period of time. I can now trace the predecessors of Le Samouraï in the American gangster movies of the 30s and I know that the raincoat was inherited from Humphrey Bogart. I can also identify countless successors that were inspired by this film. ‘s work aged beautifully and this is due to the minimalist approach that reduces details to the exact amount necessary to create the suspense and describe the situations, to a story which is smart, complex and makes sense from all angles you analyze it, to the magnetic power of the principal actors and to the cool chemistry constructed between them. A film noir for eternity.

 

I was writing a while ago that when Quentin Tarantino was making Inglorious Basterds he was not so much making a film about the Second World War and the Holocaust, but more a Tarantino film that happens during the Second World War and happens to have the Holocaust as a subject. Would this be a fair characterization of Jean-Pierre Melville‘s L’Armee des Ombres (Army of Shadows)? Is this merely a Melville film which says more about the director than about the war and the French Resistance?

source www.cinemapassion.com

Well, not really. It is true that L’Armee des Ombres has a very strong Melville touch. Made at the pick of the maturity of the director, it has an amazing familiar look with Le Cercle Rouge made one year later, the gangster story that was shown two weeks ago at the Herzlya Cinematheque, and about which I wrote about on the blog at that time. We are in familiar territory, with the director focusing on the characters and letting his splendid actors all the freedom they need to create great roles. His heroes have their own code of honor, and although we do not know much about who they are and where they come from we are led to recognize and respect their motivation and deeds, even when they may seem questionable on the sale of the accepted morality. There is also shared scenery between the two films – deserted roads and empty streets which seem a visual style mark of Melville.

(video source mongfu37)

And yet, there are more differences than similarities in my opinion. For Melville the Second World War and the Resistance were not just another theme, but a period that he lived through and a cause he participated actively in – to the point that a scene that seems completely benign today with De Gaulle decorating the fighting heroes of the Resistance let to a great outrage from some political circles and critics in a year 1969 when De Gaulle was close to the end of his political career and perceived as a conservative or even ‘reactionary’ president. Making a story about a group of fighters making the hard choices and putting in danger their own lives to do what is maybe today the obvious, but what so few people did in the real history is not just another heroic story about the war. It shows that war means not only risking own life, but also crossing the limits of accepted morality. The code of honor of the characters in this film exceeds the common judgment. While the behavior of the characters in permanent hiding and playing cat-and-mouse games with the Gestapo may remind the behavior of the heroes in the gangster movies of Melville, their motivation is totally different.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lu1tWjWObWg

(video source luvgod)

The story building in this film is not the best. The underground work of a group of fighters of the Resistance led by Luc Jardie (the actor Paul Meurisse), Philipe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), and Mathilde (Simone Signoret) is followed in the interval of an year, between 1942 and 1943. The plot has many points of discontinuity filled in by off-screen comments, and building the story is not really what seems to have interested Melville. His focus was on the situations, on the permanent tension and danger the characters live in, on the choices that they must make which are never easy – killing a traitor, risking their lives to save an imprisoned comrade, commit suicide or kill their fellows if their lives cannot be saved and endanger the continuation of the fight. There is only one choice which is not questioned – the choice to fight which seems out of doubt the right thing that needs to be done. The magnificent opening scene with the German soldiers parading on Champs Elysees is the moral background for everything that happens afterward. The defeated and humiliated France had to fight back. The question about why so few did the obvious was postponed by Melville for a film that he never got to make.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5D1nfIJ632o

(video source yaknbo)

Beside the opening there are many other memorable scenes in the film – mostly built on the relations between the characters and on the acting of all the actors in the team. Shining over the whole distribution are Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret, two splendid actors belonging to a golden generation of the French cinema who helas is gone now.  Their presence enriches a film which stays in memory for many reasons.

(video source nwatts88)

Uri Klein, the film critic of Ha’Aretz chose to open yesterday his short presentation of Jean-Pierre Melville‘s Le Circle Rouge (The Red Circle) with a short appearance of the director in Godard‘s Au Bout de Souffle. Melville is in this sequence Parvulesco, an exiled Romanian writer, answering in the Orly airport to questions posed by journalists among which young and beautiful Patricia (Jean Seaberg). We see him as maybe he was in real life, detached, amused, preoccupied more by the pleasures of life and by women than by existential questions, a little bit like a visitor playing a role of observer of the world around.

(video source francoisXIV)

Melville whom we can see in a real interview in the sequence above talking in 1970 about his fascination for cinema was indeed a strange appearance in the landscape of the French cinema. Born in a Jewish family he got his first camera at the age of six. He fought in the Resistance and the period of the war was one of the two big themes of his cinema.  The other one were his gangster movies, which included the classic Le Samourai, maybe Alain Delon‘s best role, film which inspired Gost Dog, the film I love most in Jim Jarmusch’s cinema until now. Melvilled died at a relative young age, and left only 12 movies, but many of these were exquisite. He brought to the French cinema the shady and ambiguous atmosphere of the great American thrillers of the 40s and 50s, bringing the gangster movies at the same level as the traditional French art cinema. He led a lonely life, he at some point in time he bought a studio in which he not only made films but he also lived, film-making being not only his profession, but also his way of life and his permanent obsession.

source www.imdb.com

Le Cercle Rouge is a typical story for Melville’s cinema. His characters are gangsters and policemen, who while fighting the eternal wars one against the other share the same behavior and honor code, with rules of themselves, rules out of the books of rules, rules which do not request many words to be explained and followed. They also share the same dressing code, wearing the same trench-coats borrowed from the requisite of  Humphrey Bogart.

(video source ceer)

Le Cercle Rouge brings to screen one of the exquisite teams of actors that could be gathered in a French film at that time. Alain Delon is in his natural element in the role of the gangster Corey, who just released from jail is dragged in a sophisticated jewelry theft. Delon is paired with Gian Maria Volonte who is in this film Vogel, the gangster on the run, whom Corey will recognize and who he will recognize as a fellow that destiny decided to meet together on the Red Circle (a Buddhist concept all invented by Melville for people that fate decides to put on the same track). They say that Volonte did not really cope well with the freedom that Melville used to give to his actors, I do not know if this is true, but nothing is to be seen on screen, and the Italian actor fits perfectly in the dynamics and relations of the film. Yves Montand completes the trio on the bad side of the law with a role which is smaller in words and screen time, but extremely exact and with a performance to remember. It is in the role of the cop that Melville made his most daring casting, selecting one of the greatest comic actors of France ever – Bourvil – in a completely dramatic role. This role was even more memorable taking into account that this was the last in his career.

(video source pipeoxide)

Le Cercle Rouge is a well told story which survives well the four decades since its making due to the consistent art of the director, and to the remarkable acting of its stars, who meld well into the film, playing their characters and not themselves. At a time when the American genres like the westerns and the gangster movies were making their way into the European cinema, Melville and his film are almost typical examples of the moment. A few years later it was the European art cinema which made its way back refreshing the themes and the genres in Hollywood. The dialog between the two cinema schools continues, to the delight of the film fans from all over.