Jean-Pierre Melville (director)
11 December 2017 (released)
19 December 2017
This box set contains six films plus one bonus DVD by the godfather of the so-called Nouvelle Vogue – Jean-Pierre Melville. Although mainly known to a wider audience for his bleak yet intense gangster films Melville also made wartime and psychological dramas. This set offers a selection which showcases the director’s varied style.
BOB LE FLAMBEUR (BOB THE GAMBLER) from 1956 tells the story of Bob Montagne (Roger Duchesne), a gentleman gambler who oozes Continental sophistication and who is well-liked by almost everyone important in town, even police inspector Ledru (Guy Decomble). A former bank robber who has gone straight for the past two decades, Bob has a habit of winning and it’s almost unthinkable that he will not triumph at the poker table or during a game of roulette. But when the unthinkable happens and he runs out of luck he also loses face: in order to pay off debts and to continue with the lifestyle he’s accustomed to drastic measures have to be taken, for example robbing the Deauville casino during the Grand Prix weekend when the vaults are spilling over. The plan seems straightforward enough (rigorous planning aside) but things soon take a turn for the worse when it emerges that Bob’s accomplices are anything but professional. For starters, Bob takes a young drifter called Anne (Isabelle Corey) under his wing to protect her from a certain pimp but it is Bob’s friend/accomplice Paolo (Daniele Couchy) who falls hopelessly in love with the aloof girl. In order not to lose her, Paolo brags about the looming casino robbery and thus sets a chain of events in motion which jeopardise the very outcome of the daring plan… and yes, there is a twist at the end which no one sees coming…
The stark b/w photography captures the mood of 1950’s Montmatre in Paris and Roger Duchesne is perfect casting as the suave criminal turned gambler turned criminal. The underlying humour juxtaposes the more tragic elements of the story which plays out subtle yet engaging.
LÉON MORIN, PRETRE (LÉON MORIN, PRIEST) from 1961 stars the great Jean-Paul Belmondo in the rather atypical role of a priest during the Italian and German occupation in a small French Alpine town. Enter Barny (Emmanuelle Riva), a young Communist militant who is also wayward and sexually frustrated… there are hints that sexually she might swing both ways. Barny lives with her daughter and when not quarrelling with colleagues at work she tries to find shelter for some of her Jewish friends and like-minded Communist pals. One day she walks into a Catholic church and into a confessional, more because she feels like provoking someone rather than for religious reasons (she herself is an atheist). Her random ‘victim’ happens to be Priest Léon Morin (Belmondo) but instead of taking offence by her provocative, anti-Catholic remarks in the confessional Léon engages her in an intellectual conversation which addresses not only religion but the meaning of life and true love. Gradually the two strike up a friendship and learn from each others viewpoints. This is a subtle affair, heavy on thought-provoking dialogue, the chemistry between Belmondo and Riva adds much to this drama. A shame the white subtitles which are at times very difficult to make out against white and light backgrounds – has anyone ever thought of coloured subtitles for b/w films?
LE DOULOS (THE FINGER MAN) from 1963 shows Belmondo in a totally opposite light for here he plays one mean and unscrupulous gangster called Silien who, unbeknownst to friend and burglar Maurice (Serge Reggiani), who has just murdered and robbed his friend Gilbert, is also a police informant. This fast-paced thriller is at times shocking in its brutality (given the context of its time) and Belmondo marvels in his role as the double-crossing rat who grasses up everyone for his own benefit but no prices for guessing he gets his much-deserved comeuppance.
L’ARMEE DES OMBRES (ARMY OF SHADOWS) from 1969 is based on true events and is also Melville’s most personal film. Here, Lino Ventura leads a group of resistance fighters who will risk anything in the battle against Hitler’s regime – even their likely fate of capture and consequent execution. Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel and Simone Signoret are fellow underground fighters and each and every one of them will play their part in what ultimately proves to be a failed mission. This is as gripping as it is harrowing, with a stellar cast that adds much to this tale of courage and honour. It is also the first film in this set which was shot in colour.
LE CERCLE ROUGE (THE RED CIRCLE) from 1970 stars the incomparable Alain Delon as Corey, a prisoner released early from a Marseille prison for good behaviour. This clearly was a mistake as a dodgy warder tips him off about a jewellery shop in Paris which simply screams ‘Rob me!’ In a parallel plot a prisoner called Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè) succeeds in a daring escape from a Marseille train (bound for Paris), in which he has been escorted by policeman Mattei (André Bourvil). Back in Marseille and after a bit of murdering and robbing, Corey buys a large car in which he hides stolen guns in the car boot. He is on his way to Paris but stops at a roadside grill for lunch. While eating in the diner, Vogel – having run across fields and woods, shows up precisely at the very car park with the diner next to it. Trying his luck in finding an unlocked car boot to hide in, Vogel ends up in Corey’s car boot… would you believe it! Thus the path of the two criminals cross and before you can say ‘Hands up!’ the two unlikely partners in crime find themselves planning an elaborate robbery in the aforementioned jewellery shop – with the additional help of alcoholic ex-cop Jansen (Yves Montand) and a fence. The robbery is a success but not for long though, seeing how the disgraced Mattei and half of the police force are hot on the heels of the criminals. Delon performs with his usual trademark style ranging from cool to cold and he never so much as even smiles. Volontè is the perfect opposite with his Latino temper. A gem among French noir gangster flicks!
The final film is UN FLIC (DIRTY MONEY aka THE COP) from 1972, which also marks Melville’s final feature film (the director died the following year). Alain Delon returns, this time as a man on the right side of the law, namely as Parisian police chief Edouard Coleman. Oozing his usual cool and aloof demeanour, Delon has little problems playing a man whose job of investigating brutal crimes has left him feeling despondent. He has an affair with the equally cold Cathy (Catherine Deneuve) and because this is France, everything is quite in the open and thus Coleman befriends Cathy’s boyfriend Simon (Richard Crenna), the owner of a posh nightclub. What Coleman doesn’t know is that Simon is also a brazen bank robber and drug smuggler, leading up to one of the most nerve-wracking and action packed scenes in the film… UN FLIC never lets up and from the off it’s all action when Simon and accomplices rob a seaside bank during a particularly fierce storm. Spiffing stuff beginning to end!
All six discs come with Special Features and there’s also a Bonus Disc thrown in containing a 52min Melville docu and also a 22min Melville short.