Jean-pierre Melville

Jean-pierre Melville

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La Deuxième Souffle Review


Extraordinary
Le Deuxième Souffle was, when it was released in Europe in 1966, the last film to be shot by Jean-Pierre Melville in black-and-white. The French master's first color film was Le Samourai in 1967 and was followed within two years by Army of Shadows, two inarguable masterpieces that the US wanted nothing to do with at the time. Like few other directors, Melville took naturally to color, uncovering a deeper isolation in an array of tones that had seemed simply tragic in his peerless black-and-white work. Recently remade in France with Daniel Auteuil in the lead, Le Deuxième Souffle, which literally translates into "The Second Breath," might be considered "minor" Melville in comparison to the towering giants that followed it, but even that would rank it among the best crim films of the 1960s.

Staging a prison break before the credits even start, Gustave (Lino Ventura, the epitome of glacier cool), constantly referred to as Gu, quickly finds his way to a Paris safe house as he begins to plan a way to get to Marseilles with his girlfriend Manouche (Christine Fabréga) and enough dough to retire from the underworld. It's not long before he's giving up his desire to kill local hood Jo Ricci (expert sniveler Marcel Bozzuffi) instead planning to rob a police transport with Ricci's brother Paul (Raymond Pellegrin). The take is nearly a billion dollars worth of platinum bars, though it will mean working with hot-tempered upstart Antoine Ripa (Denis Manuel).

Continue reading: La Deuxième Souffle Review

Army Of Shadows Review


Essential
It's hard to imagine a cinematic culture where a monumental achievement like Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 film Army of Shadows would fall into obscurity, but then again we just recently got our eyes on Killer of Sheep. The reasons behind the withholding of Melville's unreleased French resistance epic are plentiful; they stretch from the arguable lack of commercial appeal of the film to its controversial, striking opening shot of German soldiers goosestepping down the Champs Elysees, two decades after they had actually commandeered the country. Whatever the reason, 2006 saw Rialto Distribution (which recently looked over the re-release of Alberto Lattuada's fearsome Mafioso) supervised the reappraisal of Shadows with the help of its ace cinematographer, Pierre Lhomme.

In the murky gloom of a makeshift work camp, soldiers drop off Gerbier (the immortal Lino Ventura) to be put eventually in front of the Nazi tribunal. The German occupancy of France has sent a few loyalists underground to join the resistance, calculating ways to lower the German numbers and quickly dispatching any members of the resistance that get loose-lipped. When he is brought before the Nazis, Gerbier orchestrates a breathless escape from their headquarters. From there, Melville's film becomes a stunning, globetrotting spy masterpiece, shifting from the windy desolation of north France to the burnt dystopia of Marseilles with a brief stint in London.

Continue reading: Army Of Shadows Review

Le Samouraï Review


Essential
When I was a little child with red cheeks and a head of curls, I wanted to grow up to be a hitman. Fireman? You couldn't pay me enough and I seriously could never grow a mustache that big. Doctor? I can find plenty of work not involving holding a man's genitals and asking him to cough, please. Nope, give me that mystery and the danger of the stone-faced hitman, where the only real needs of the job are not getting caught, handle a gun and kill the mark. One wonders if Jeff Costello had any dreams of becoming anything else besides a hitman dressed like Humphrey Bogart.

Jeff (Alain Delon) is the main character in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, a nuanced, surprising crime film from the days of the French New Wave. The film takes a minimalist look at a hitman's doomed existence, following Jeff through a hit and the unexpected outcomes of that action. He is picked up and questioned by an uncompromising police inspector (Francois Périer) and is let go after exasperating tests and questioning. The only witness to his crime is the piano player, Valerie (Caty Rosier), who denies seeing him at the club at all. Jeff doesn't squeal, but his employer sets a price on his head which is almost carried out, but not to full expectations. He offers Jeff another hit worth $2 million. Carrying out this hit ignites a strange but enthralling chase scene and ultimately leads him to his doom.

Continue reading: Le Samouraï Review

Le Cercle Rouge Review


Extraordinary
Movies about heists are gimmick-driven things, which is why so few are worth remembering. They live and breathe on some corny and forced plot twist at the end -- "The crook is really a cop!" "The cop is really a crook!" -- because the rest of the movie is usually obvious and boilerplate. There are standard-issue shots of men in masks breaking into the bank/mansion/store, led by some crusty old expert who's famous for his heists, though not so famous that the cops have caught on, but he's having second thoughts about being in the business, and so on. You don't even have to see The Score to know how it goes, and Heist is David Mamet's dullest film - so dull it didn't even try to come up with an interesting title.

So, fair warning: Jean-Pierre Melville's 1970 Le Cercle Rouge (in re-release by Rialto Pictures with a blessing by John Woo) is just a heist film. It has all the familiar elements detailed above. Why, then, is it a masterpiece?

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Bob Le Flambeur Review


Excellent
"Born with an ace on his palm," Bob is a career gambler living in Paris's Montmartre district, living only at night and only in the local casinos. But poor Bob (Roger Duchesne) has hit an unlucky streak, and now he's down to his last 800 francs. A smart bet at the racetrack puts him back up, but an ill-advised trip to the local craps house wipes him clean.

With his young protege Paolo (Daniel Cauchy), Bob le Flambeur (Bob the High Roller) decides to rob the nearby Deauville casino on Grand Prix night, a huge safecracking job requiring lots of knowhow, inside knowledge, and plenty of guns. But as with any heist, loose lips and second thoughts get in the way... as does Bob's legacy as a gambler. And of course, the various dames in their lives only make matters worse.

Continue reading: Bob Le Flambeur Review

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