TIFF Cinematheque Presents – Les films de Jean-Pierre Melville

TIFF Cinematheque’s SUMMER IN FRANCE takes a different look this year with a Jen-Pierre Melville tribute.

 

Jean-Pierre Grumbach was born in 1917 in Paris, France, the son of Berthe and Jules Grumbach.  He took the name of Melville after the war, after his favourite American author Herman Melville.   His family were Alsatian Jews.  After the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Grumbach entered the French Resistance to oppose the German Nazis who occupied the country. 

 

After the war, Melville entered film directing, opening his own studio and initially making minimalist films.  His films are known for featuring thee great name French stars -Alain Delon, Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

 

His films have a characteristic look and bear common themes.  His themes are often gangster capers where double-crosses and prison (escaped convicts or gangsters coming out after serving their sentences) are tied into the story. Melville’s films are rich in film noir atmosphere and more than often a delight to watch.

 

For more information of the series, venue and ticket pricing, check the Cinematheque website at:

http://www.tiff.net/#series=army-of-shadows-the-films-of-jean-pierre-melville

 

CAPSULE REVIEWS of Selected Films:

 

L’ARMEE DES OMBRES (ARMY OF SHADOWS) (France 1969) **** 

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville 

 

Based on real experiences in the French Resistance, Joseph Kessel’s fiction novel is given worthy treatment in Melville’s 150 minutes film adaptation.  The centre of the piece is civil engineer Resistance Fighter Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) who at the beginning of the film is captured by the Vichy police and put in a prison camp.  A violent escape and other adventures allow the audience to be treated to the detailed exploits of the Resistance fighters.  Though not short of action and suspense (the best bit with the audience waiting almost two minutes waiting for Gerbier to execute his second escape), Melville effectively creates the mood of the desperation of the fighters and the atmosphere of the dangers of the times.  Simone Signoret steals the show as Mathilde, one of the chief organizers of the Resistance.  The film is well paced and flows smoothly from start to finish with the Arc de Triomphe in the initial and final shots.  ARMY OF SHADOWS is as meticulously plotted as one of Melville’s heist movies. 

 

LE DEUXINEME SOUFFLE (THE SECOND WIND) (SECOND BREATH) (France 1966) **** Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Melville shows in this crime caper about and scaled criminal Gustave Minda (Lino Ventura) that there is honour among thieves.  Gu (short for Gustave) is well respected in the criminal world for his expertise and loyalty.  He is given a job to do which he needs the money in order to escape to Italy via Marseilles where he can live the rest of his life.  But Inspector Blot (Paul Meurisse) is a cunning sleuth who eventually  puts all the clues together to fps out Gu.  As is most of Melville films, the elements of betrayal, prison, cop vs. crook, heist execution are all present.  his is one of the longer melville films running close to 2 hours and 20 minutes but with really a dull moment.  Both Meurisse and Ventura are excellent in their respective roles of cop and criminal.  It is hard to take sides of either.  This was Melville’s most successful film commercially.

 

DEUX HOMMES DANS MANHATTAN (TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN) (France 1969) ****

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

There are three reasons to watch Melville’s TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN.  The first is that it is a rare screening of the film, which is largely unavailable in other forms.  Second, this is the only film that is both directed and star Melville.  Melville plays Maurice, a French journalist in NYC, one of the two men in Manhattan.  He and Pierre Grasset play two French journalists in New York City searching for a missing United Nations diplomat.  In the process, they uncover some nasty bits on the diplomat, but decide to do the right thing.  The third reason to se the film is to experience the rich film noir atmosphere of this piece. Ironically, it’s is not a general crime caper, but there the typical crime element such as is – hunt for a missing person, dead bodes and coloured characters like the women in the life of the diplomat – an actress, a prostitute, a stripper and a jazz singer.

 

UN FLIC (France 1972) ****

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Deliciously wicked Melville.  The film begins with a quotation by Eugène-François Vidocq which is repeated by Alain Delon’s character in the film:  “The only feelings mankind has ever inspired in policemen are those of indifference and derision…”   Then Melville attempts and succeeds in proving the saying with his crime tale centring on flic, Edouard Coleman, played by Alain Delon in his first cop role for Melville after playing criminals in LE SAMOURAI and LE CERCLE ROUGE.  Alain Delon’s is just as violent and cool if not more than Clint Eastwood’s DIRTY HARRY.  This can be observed in the hilarious scene where he gets a classic trio of pickpockets to speak up.  There are lots to enjoy in this crime caper, the best of which is a suspenseful bank robbery at the Banque National de Paris in the suburbs of Paris in which one of the robbers is wounded by a bullet.  Melville includes nice bits like a Santa Claus informer, a common love interest (Catherine Deneuve) between flic and crook and American actor Richard Crenna speaking perfect French.  As expected, Melville’s film is rich in film noir atmosphere complete with wicked details like the crooked laid out lit windows of police station building.  More story and easier to follow than the usual Melville film and even more entertaining as a result!  p.s.  Is there a sexier couple than Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve?

 

 

Jean-Pierre Melville
Jean-Pierre Melville
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