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The Silence of the Sea (1949)

 silence

Also know as Le silence de la mer”, in 1941, in a small town in Nazi occupied France, a Nazi office commandeers lodging with an elderly man and his niece. They don’t protest butthey totally ignore the German. As time goes by the German officer, Werner von Ebrennac, shares his love of music, the arts and France.
As time goes on he talks of his dream of the marriage of Germany and France, and when he says so he looks at the niece. Although the uncle and niece do not say anything, there is a sense that he is winning them over. The office tells of the time his almost fiance pulled the wings off an insect that bit her. He comments on how most Germans are like that. He sees the flaws with his people, but he also thinks that things will work out for the better.
The officer stopped appearing in uniform, and always had his one way chats. He talks about Marshall Petain; how he sold out his country, comparing him to McBeth. He then informs his “hosts” that he will be gone to Paris for two weeks. He has fallen for the niece, and although he never says it directly, it is easy to see. He says he is grateful that Germany has restored France’s greatness.
The officer visits Paris and sees the Arch of Triumph, a statue of Joan of Arc, and Notre Dame. He returned to the uncle and niece, but for a week didn’t come down to see them. One night he knocked, and for the first time the uncle told him to come in. He told them of his trip to Paris, and of learning about the death camps from his friends. he learned there was not to be a marriage of Germany and France, but a domination. His friends tell him they must never allow France to rise again. “Haven’t you realized yet that we are tricking them?” “Do you think we’re so stupid as to allow France ever to rise again?” “We are no buffoons. Politics is not some romantic dream.” “Why do you think we waged war? To please your old marshall? We aren’t lunatics, nor are we fools.” “We have the opportunity to destroy France and we will do so. Not only it’s might but also its spirit. That is where the biggest danger lies. That’s our mission. Don’t kid yourself my friend. We will be smiling. We will proceed with mercy. But we will turn France in to a cowering dog.” “You’re blinded by your love of France. That’s dangerous. We will cure Europe of this pestilence. We will utterly destroy this poison.”
The officer tells them he has requested a transfer to the front lines. The officer and the niece look at each other, and he says “Farewell”. For the first time the niece speaks to him and says softly: “Farewell.”

The movie was based on a true story and was filmed in the same house that the events took place. It was Melville’s first full length film, and it was very good. This movie showed, like Army of Shadows, that not all French surrendered to the Germans. Unlike Army of Shadows, in this movie the resistance was passive. They didn’t actively fight the Germans, but they did nothing to help them either. This was a movie that the French could embrace as they tried to heal as a country.
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Leon Morin , Priest (1961)

 

Also know as The Forgiven Sinner, Leon Morin is a priest in war time France, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, who has a young atheist widowm Barny, walk in to his confessional and tells him how bad religion really is.
Leon starts to council Barny and she begins to read some books that he has given her. As the relationship develops Barny begins to fall in love with Leon. We can see that Leon becomes tempted but he stays true to his religion. In the end Barny want to convert.
The movie moves a little slow as it explores the world of ideas, mostly in dialogue between Leon and Barny.
A really good movie that is very different from the rest of Melville’s work.
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Les enfants terribles (1950)

 

lesBased on a book by Jean Cocteau. The movie starts with a teacher getting hit with a snowball that has a rock in it. He seems more hurt that the boy, who he seems to like would try to hurt him. The doctor tells him that he has a weak heart, and he retreats to his room.
The movie then closes in on the injured youth, Paul and his sister Elisabeth who cares for him. When their mother dies, they isolate themselves from the world as they switch between fighting and playing.
The couple do have two friends who come and things just get pretty weird. I really didn’t like it very much. i think Melville’s gangster movies are much, much better.
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Un Flic

flic

Un Flic is French, for A Cop. The movie opens with the quote “”The only feelings mankind has ever inspired in policemen are those of indifference or derision.” The quote is then also spoken by Commissaire Edouard Coleman, played by Alain Delon, later in the film.
This was a pretty strange movie. It was Melville’s last film, and not a very good one to go out on. Melville again blurs the lines between the cops and the crooks. In this one the cop, Edouard, and the crook, Simon, played by Richard Crenna, are friends and even share the same girlfriend. The transvestite has a crush on Edouard, but he just wants to hit him.
The story had potential but was ruined by the non-special effects. Model trains and helicopters were on the screen for way too long. If you are going to poor effects you shouldn’t have them on the screen for this long.
In the end all the crooks are dead. Its seems that Edouard was just too smart. But do we really care. After shooting down his friend Edouard is asked “didn’t you shoot a bit quick?” He answers “I wasn’t sure this one would kill himself.” In this film I didn’t cheer for the cops or the robbers, and that is why it was ultimately really mediocre.
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Le deuxième souffle (1966)

le

The movie, Second Breath begins with convicts escaping over a wall. One falls to his death, but nothing is said. The two survivors make it over the wall and then hop on a train. Later as one leaves the train, he leaves without a word to his comrade. Who else, other than Melville, would have scenes like this with no dialogue at all?
When Gu, played by Lino Ventura, makes it to Paris to join his friends, he vows that he is not going to go back. A dangerous plan comes up where he can make some serious money, and he decides to join in.
Melville again blurs the line between the police and the criminals. Gu is being pursued by Commissaire Blot, played by Paul Meurisse, whose name seems to strike fear in the network of criminals. He seems to know every move that they will make. The police are seen beating the criminals to get information. We see that Gu is a cold blooded killer : he is someone who will kill innocent men for money. And despite this we still cheer for him. That is what makes Melville so disturbing.
There is a wonderful scene in which a friend of Gu’s goes to negotiate a truce for him with some rival gangsters. Werner Herzog says of this scene :

“The problems of orientation and rhythm can never be resolved in the editing room; they are established only during shooting. My favourite film in this respect is one of Jean-Pierre Melville’s. A little gypsy gangster is summoned to meet some rivals and he secretly checks out the small attic where the meeting is going to take place. He tests the possible seating arrangements and notes where he would be pushed if threatened with a gun. The only logical place is a cupboard. He tests how he would stand there, hands raised. He leaves his gun hidden on top of the cupboard, just inches away from where his raised right hand would almost certainly be. But when he leaves the building he is spotted by one of the rival gangsters who checks out what the little gypsy might have been doing there. He starts to take potential positions himself and finds the gun. All of a sudden space and orientation become the leading characters in the film – as they do in other Melville films – and I love him for that” (Herzog on Herzog, ,2002, p.231)

In the end Gu’s honor was more important to him then escaping. The term “Honor Among Thieves” is a major theme in this movie. In the end Blot demonstrates that Gu’s reputation was also important to him, because the lines in this game are blurred, and Gu knew how to play the game.
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Le cercle rouge (1970)

circleThe Red Circle starts with an escaped thief and a newly released criminal meeting up by accident and joining together to pull the big heist.
Alain Delon plays the released prisoner who immediately sides with the criminal being hunted. He definitely knows what side he is on. When the duo join with former police sharp shooter, now alcoholic criminal for sale, we have three pretty cool guys planning a big caper.
The planning of the caper and the carrying out of the theft are reminiscent of Bob le flambeur in tone and style.
In typical Melville style, we also become well acquainted with the pursuing police, although we aren’t necessarily cheering for them. Another great Melville movie that gets better with each viewing.
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Bob le flambeur (1956)

bobBob the Gambler is one of my favorite movies. Every time I see it I like it more and more. It is the movie that turned me on to Melville.
The movie is about a former criminal now a degenerate gambler, named Bob, who never seems to win. He is really cool and everyone seems to look up to him. Like in most Melville films, our anti-hero has a relationship with the police. In his own way is just as cool as Alain Delon was inLe Samourai, except he is about thirty years older.
After a particularly bad streak, Bob is tempted to revert to his old ways. Most of the movie is then about his plans to put together the big score.
Like most of Melville’s films there isn’t a lot of action and there isn’t a lot of dialogue. We just watch and his friends as they live their daily lives. The movie is very believable. One can easily imagine a character like Bob walking down the street.
Bob is the classic anti-hero. A criminal and degenerate gambler, but you still end up cheering for him. One of the most iconic figures on film.