A French UN delegate has disappeared into thin air, sending reporter Moreau (Jean-Pierre Melville) and hard drinking photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset) on an assignment to find him. Their only lead is a picture of three women.
1941 in a small town in Nazi occupied France. Against the will of its elderly male and his adult niece residents, the Nazis commandeer a house for one of their officers, Lt. Werner von ... See full summary »
Gustave Minda, better known as Gu, a dangerous gangster, escapes from jail. He goes to Paris to join Manouche and other friends, and get involved in a gangland killing. Before leaving the country with Manouche, Gu needs a final job to get some money. But that's not so simple when you have Inspector Blot tracking you, and have to deal with the consequences of the shooting in Paris...Written by
Avenue Kléber in Paris is the street where the restaurant of the killing at the beginning of the movie takes place. Melville uses the same street at the beginning of L'Armée des ombres (1969) when Philippe, Lino Ventura's character, is fleeing the Gestapo. Later in the movie, Gu hides in plain sight by looking like a commercial representative and Philippe does the same in L'Armée. See more »
Why do I always care about thieves in heist films, no matter how bad they are? As is common in Jean-Pierre Melville's later films, this meticulously crafted crime film opens with a title card that epigrammatically sets out a foreboding epigram that molds ostensible meaning into the action: "A man is given but one right at birth: to choose his own death. But if he chooses because he's weary of his own life, then his entire existence has been without meaning." It's invariably inhibiting to totally apply these fatalistic, existential aphorisms to the films that thus proceed, but they tend to cast a distinct outlook across the film. I'm not so sure that this slow, deliberate caper, or any of Melville's others for that matter, seeks all of the indications of this quote, but its pretext of fate, mortality and grim, solipsistic judgment corresponds with the essential themes of the film.
Like Le Cercle Rouge, Le Deuxième Soufflé is a nominal saga, an antithetical and composite film in which the life seems as if to impose and simultaneously exhale. Ventura's performance is both innate and disciplined by his claustrophobic settings. There are several instances set within moving cars, less to expand the atmosphere than to show the inhibition of the space they employ.
What frustrates and somewhat detaches me however is that Melville never seems to give his characters any involved cognitive measure. They're characterized and assessed by the black and white of their behavior. Gu is a ruthless, intractable and curtailed presence who gains recognition, even from Inspector Blot, another wonderfully named character, played by Paul Meurisse, who respects his deadly actions because he eventually complies with and doesn't veer from his dang "code."
Much of this 1966 cops-and-robbers film can be explained just in terms of its distilled preoccupation with the reference to the conventions regarding the treatment of Chandler, McBain, W.R. Burnett, Jim Thompson, stylish Hollywood crime dramas, and classic American gangster pictures. Melville's films in this mode have the element of photogenics, conformity to modern ideas and models nourished by a shadowy nonchalance and the characters' affectedly memorialized mannerisms. For instance when a dutiful thug prepares to meet the other gang members, casing the place first, but also anticipating the blanket preconditions of the scene. This dogmatic behavior underscores the salutary definitions of these characters, their movements having a textbook role. You can also see Melville's influence on Tarantino's Jackie Brown when the thug is dramatically pre-performing the differing poses of the impending standoff. Also, it's not until Gu changes into clothing more mindfully echoing that of a gangster that he is allowed to free himself from being so secretive and concealed.
The sullen, inflamed and exceedingly conventionalized quality of this typified film conveys Melville's immersion in the downbeat deliberation of the play of loyalty and destined disloyalty. With this transcendent crime film, as per Melville's usual, complete with another great title, Second Wind, Melville pushes the tonal qualities and gray scale of the image to new levels. The movie's preoccupation with issues of fellowship, abnormally all-consuming professionalism, silence, and duplicity reverberates with Melville's own distinction as an egocentric, tight-lipped, fringe-dwelling figure in French cinema, who despite his success never truly declared participation or involvement in any founded generation or evolution of filmmakers.
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