Jean-Pierre Melville
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Jean-Pierre Melville anticipo` la "nouvelle vague" con la produzione a basso costo di Le Silence De La Mer (1949), un film antitedesco sul periodo dell'occupazione.

Un'altra trasposizione letteraria, Les Enfants Terribles (1949), da Cocteau, confermò il metodo improvvisato e una serie di film autoprodotti, sul milieu della mala francese con gran colpo al casinò e un giocatore roulette-dipendente, lo portarono in era di rinnovamento. Il migliore e` Bob Le Flambeur (1956), una formidabile imitazione del noir in voga negli USA.

Bob is a middle-aged gambler who walks out of a club early in the morning and sees a sexy teenager accept a motorcycle ride from a sailor. Everybody knows him. Even a police car stops to give him a ride. Afterwards the detective tells his pals that Bob once saved his life. Bob is a former criminal who spent many years in prison for robbing a bank. When a pimp, Marc, comes asking for money, Bob kicks him out: he has his own principles and does not like men who abuse girls. Later Bob sees the same pimp talk to the sexy teenager. Bob sends Marc away and lectures the teenager about the dangers of hanging out in that neighborhood where most girls end up prostitutes. The girl, Anne, is defiant but is pleased that he is so protective. He invites her to sit at the table with his young friend Paolo, who immediately falls in love with her. Bob warns her against getting seduced by the lights of the night life and gives her money for a hotel. Meanwhile the pimp has been arrested by the detective for beating his girl, Lydia. The detective, Bob's friend, is willing to let him go if he becomes an informer, and Marc accepts.
Bob, who drives a big expensive US-made car, picks up Anne again. She has just been evicted from the hotel. This time Bob offers her to move in with him. Later they meet Paolo. Bob tells Paolo to stay away from Marc and leaves him with Anne. When they get to Bob's place, Anne starts undressing right away in front of Paolo and Paolo smiles. Meanwhile Bob spends another night gambling and losing. When he gets home, he finds them sleeping naked in bed but doesn't even wake them up. While they continue their romance, Bob loses almost all his money. A friend mentions that a casino's safe contains a fortune and Bob decides that it is time to strike again. He looks for Paolo and finds him dealing with Marc. Bob treats Paolo like a son. He warns Marc to stay away from them. They find money from a rich Scotsman and hire a seasoned safecracker. Then the group trains meticulously. A bar owner, Yvonne, who has been a close friend of Bob since he lent her the money to buy the bar, guesses that he is getting into something dangerous and offers to lend him money, worried that he is too old to risk another prison term. Meanwhile, Paolo has told Anne. Anne is looser than ever with men. She sleeps with both Paolo and Marc. Paolo wants to cover her with gold and has told her about the planned heist. Marc wants to turn her into a prostitute and she seems to prefer Marc's plan. One day she tells Marc that Paolo will soon be rich, and that the plan is to rob the casino. Marc sees that this is the chance to keep his promise with the detective. Anne realized that she has created a problem and rushes to tell Bob what she has done. Bob finds out that Marc has been visited by cops and guesses that Marc is an informer. When Paolo shows up, Bob tells him that he's an idiot: not only his girl cheated on him with Marc, but his desire to impress the girl with his stories has killed their plan that now must be aborted. Paolo rushes out of the bar. From behind the bar, Yvonne is a silent witness of everything that is going on. She only sees their actions, does not hear their discussions, but it's enough for her to guess.
Menawhile, there's another problem caused by a woman. The plan relies on a croupier who is supposed to stall an elevator. When his wife finds out, she gets mad at him that he didn't ask for more money. She drags him out in the street looking for Bob to renegotiate the deal. Paolo finds Marc and kills him just when Marc is dialing the number of the detective to confirm that Bob is behind the plan. Not having found Bob anywhere, the croupier's wife decides that the best course of action is to call the police and turn Bob in, so that her husband will not have to stall the elevator and will not be involved. His friend the police detective has dinner with Bob to warn him against going ahead with the plan. Bob is determined. Anne, now a dancer in a nightclub, indifferent to the death of Marc, receives the key of Bob's apartment, that Bob has left for her so that she has a decent place to stay. The police is ready to lay its trap at the casino. The police detective walks all over town leaving the message for Bob that he has to stay away from the casino. Bob walks into the casino, and, while waiting for the croupier to show up, starts playing. He starts winning, and keeps winning. This time Lady Luck is with him. He forgets about the plan. Meanwhile, Anne, the silly amoral girl who has caused all the trouble, happily enters his house and makes herself comfortable.
Bob is still playing (and winning) when the gang sets the plan in motion. The police are waiting for them. The gang is trapped. They try to shoot their way out and a few are killed. Among them is Paolo. Bob rushes out of the casino just in time to see his protege Paolo die. Bob and the survivors are handcuffed while casino employees carry out two large boxes full of banknotes: all the money that Bob won that night, money that made the heist pointless. The money is placed in the trunk of the police car. In the car Bob is told that all that money will help him hire a good attorney who will probably have him acquitted of the attempted robbery. The police detective smiles, as if happy that Bob the scoundrel has a way out. Bob himself, who never lost his temper throughout the movie, makes a joke, as if he was certain that he would win this hand too. After all, a gorgeous girl is waiting for him at the house.

Ma Melville fu anche uno dei primi a convertirsi al cinema commerciale con i suoi gialli ispirati ai classici "neri" americani: Le Doulos [(1962) gangster ambientato nella mala francese con riflessione sull'amicizia virile a sfondo pessimistico: Belmondo finisce in carcere per un colpo fallito e fa giustiziare dagli amici un presunto traditore che ha uccisa la sua amante che in realtà gli è sempre stato fedele ed ha uccisa la vera traditrice], Le Deuxieme Souffle[(1967) stesso milieu e stessa morale: la corsa verso la morte di un vecchio gangster tradito dai giovani complici che comunque fa in tempo a giustiziare], e soprattutto Le Samourai (1967).

Jef Costello e` solo nella sua spoglia camera. Fuori piove. L'unica compagnia e` il cinguettio di un uccellino. Jef esce di casa e ruba un'auto. La porta da un amico che le cambia la targa in cambio di denaro. Jef e` un gangster taciturno, glaciale e cronometrico, che conosce tutti i trucchi del mestiere. Indossa sempre un cappello e un impermeabile, e, quando sta per commettere un crimine, i guanti bianchi. Va a trovare la sua donna, l'avvenente Jane Lagrange. Le chiede di darle un alibi fino alle 2 di notte. Lei aspetta qualcuno alle 2, per cui l'alibi varra` soltanto fino all'1:45.
Si reca in un locale in cui sta suonando una pianista africana. Penetra nell'ufficio del padrone e lo uccide. Nell'uscire, viene visto dalla pianista in pieno volto, poi di sbieco da diversi altri inservienti. Poi si fa vedere dall'uomo che sta per entrare nell'appartamento di Jane. La polizia lo ferma subito tra i sospetti. L'investigatore conosce il suo passato e sente che questo e` un suo crimine. Jane conferma il suo alibi. Il suo amante conferma di averlo incontrato mentre entrava. I testimoni sono incerti: alcuni lo riconoscono, altri no. La pianista e` categorica nello scagionarlo, benche' lo abbia visto in pieno viso. L'investigatore lo rilascia controvoglia, ma lo fa pedinare.
Jef semina il poliziotto che lo segue e si incontra con lo scagnozzo del mandante. Questi invece di pagarlo tenta di liquidarlo. Jef rimane ferito ma fugge. Il mandante e` un riccastro che vive in una casa piena di quadri d'arte. Lo vuole eliminare perche' sa che la polizia e` sulle sue tracce. Adesso sia la polizia sia i gangster gli danno la caccia. La polizia installa microfoni nel suo alloggio, ma Jef se ne accorge. Jef affronta la pianista, le confessa di aver ucciso perche' pagato. E` misteriosa la ragione per cui la pianista ha mentito all'investigatore.
Il mandante invia il suo sicario a far pace e a proporre un nuovo contratto. Jef accetta il contratto, ma picchia il sicario finche' gli confessa il nome del mandante.: Olivier Rey. Poi semina la polizia che gli sta dando una caccia spietata nel metro. Ruba un'altra auto, la porta dallo stesso amico, che gli dice "pero` questa e` l'ultima volta". Va a salutare la sua Jane, poi penetra nella casa di Rey, lo affronta. Rey gli chiede se accetta il contratto: Jef risponde di si`, ha gia` trattenuto i soldi. Poi Jef gli spara a bruciapelo per vendicarsi.
Jef entra nel locale, si avvicina alla pianista, tira fuori la pistola. La pianista gli chiede perche'. Jef risponde che e` stato pagato per ucciderla. E` lei la vittima del contratto di Rey (probabilmente lei era la donna di Rey, aveva mentito all'investigatore per non far arrestare Jef, ed era diventata una testimone pericolosa). Jef fa per sparare, ma la polizia lo fulmina. L'ispettore prende il revolver e fa vedere alla pianista che non c'erano pallottole. Jef si e` fatto uccidere.
La quintessenza del film noir. Un uomo solitario, senza scrupoli, senza emozioni, che si limita a suguire il proprio destino. Il suo destino e` di vincere sempre, e vincere significa uccidere qualcuno ed eludere la polizia. L'unico modo di scampare a quel destino e` quello di farsi uccidere.

L'Armee des Ombres/ Army of Shadows (1969) is a psychological thriller set among the Resistance fighters of World War II. The most suspenseful scene is actually the one in which the partisans have to kill one of theirs. The film begins with soldiers marching under the Arc de Triomphe. France is occupied by the Nazists. Philippe is a political prisoner taken (by the French guards who cooperate with the occupier) to a prison camp (a huge camp that was built to accommodate many French prisoners, but mostly unused because very few French resisted). The French investigator reads the report on Philippe: he is a suspected leader of the Resistance. The French transfer Philippe to the nazists, but Philippe manages to escape by using another gullible prisoner to distract the guards, indifferent to the fact that the other one will be shot by the guards. Philippe reaches his friends Felix and Le Bison. They have to kill the young informer, Paul, who turned Philippe in. They find him and take him to the house of a young enthusiastic novice, Le Masque. They cannot use a pistol because it would make noise. They try to find a suitable means for the execution while Paul listens harmless and meekly. Eventually they have to strangle it. All of them watch the execution: Philippe stares coldly, while Le Masque is devastated and Felix sweats. Philippe gives Felix a cyanide pill to be swallowed if he is ever arrested by the nazists. In a bar Felix meets his old friend Jean-Francois and talks him into performing a mission for them: deliver a radio transmitter to a fellow operative. While Jean-Francois travels by train and delivers the object to Mathilde (Simone Signoret), Philipe informs Felix of a dangerous submarine mission to reach the command of the Resistance in exile: Philippe will accompany the "Grand Patron", the secret boss of the Resistance, whose identity is unknown to them. While he is in the city, Jean-Francois also visits his elder brother Luc, a philosopher who lives in a mansion. When Philippe takes off for his submarine trip, he meets the "Grand Patron": it's Luc. Philippe and Luc spend a few days in London. Back home the nazists arrest Felix, who is in charge of the group while Philippe is away, and start interrogating him under torture. Philippe decides to return home and is parachuted back to France. Mathilde is now in charge, a very efficient boss. Philippe meets her in person. She tells him that neither her husband nor her daughter know of her secret work. She has a dangerous plan to free Felix. Jean-Francois listens while they talk and decides to help in his own way: he mails to the nazists an anonymous letter denouncing himself, as if it was sent by an anonymous informer. The nazists bite: they arrest him, torture him and throw him in to the same cell as the moribund Felix. Meanwhile, Mathilde, Masque and Le Bison, wearing nazist uniforms, drive a German ambulance to the prison and pretend to be sent to transfer Felix elsewhere. They don't know that Felix is dying: the prison's doctor informs them that the transfer would be pointless. They risked their lives for nothing. In prison Jean-Francois helps Felix commit suicide. Philippe meets Mathilde. She tells him that the police are looking for him. Seconds after Mathilde leaves him, the police captures him. He is thrown into a jail with other Frenchmen. One day the nazist guards come to pick them up: they are to be executed.
The nazist guards drive the prisoners to a courtyard and unchain them. The officer tells them that they have a chance: if they can run fast enough and reach the wall, they will not be executed. Philippe knows that the nazi officer wants to see him run like a coward. They all start running except him. Eventually, though he cannot resist and starts running too. When the soldiers start shooting, he is almost at the wall. Someone throws a smoke bomb and drops a rope. He grabs it and starts climbing. His men have engineered his escape. Later in the car they tell him that it was Mathilde who planned it. Philippe is ashamed that he gave in to fear like the nazist officer had wanted. They take him to an isolated house, where he hides. Now he feels useless. He only finds five books: the books that Jean-Francois wrote before the war. Jean-Francois' brother comes to tell him that Mathilde has been arrested, and blackmailed in a terrible manner: they will send her daughter to a brothel for nazist soldiers if she does not coooperate. Minutes later Le Masque and Le Bison arrive. Luc hides. The two men inform Philippe that Mathilde has been released but two of their men have been arrested. Philippe decides that Mathilde must be liquidated Le Bison, whose life was saved by Mathilde, is disgusted and refuses to obey. Philippe is about to shoot him when Luc emerges and calms everybody down. Luc reasons that Mathilde has turned in only two minor operatives to save her daughter. Luc reasons that Mathilde now wants to get killed by them, having saved her daughter and having become a target for further nazist action. Le Bison accepts this explanation. When the two men leave, Luc admits to Philippe that he himself doesn't believe in his own theory.
A few days later Philippe, Luc, Le Bison and Le Masque shoot Mathilde in the street. The car drives towards the Arc de Triomphe, where the film began. Titles tell what will happen to the four: Le Masque will swallow his cyanide pill, Le Bison will be beheaded by the nazis, Luc will be tortured to death, and Philippe, apparently, will be shot dead by the nazis ("will not run this time").

In theory, Le Cercle Rouge/ The Red Circle (1970) is inspired to a Buddha saying, but that saying is actually a Melville invention. That's the only joke in an austere, somber and elegant "film noir". There is also only one woman in the entire film (other than dancers in a cabaret) and she only says a few words, reduced to photos and a naked body. The stories of the three protagonists are never told, but from their looks one can guess: one has the look of someone who has killed before, one has the look of a cold calculating criminal who has paid before, and one has the look of a failed man who needs to prove something to himself.

A cop, superintendent Mattei, is escorting a criminal on a train. They walk into their night car, and Mattei handcuffs the criminal to a rail of the bunk bed. The prisoner pretends to fall asleep but he is actually opening his handcuffs with a needle. Meanwhile in a prison cell the guard tells the prisoner, Corey (Alain Delon), that he will be released in the morning and tries to recruit him for a heist. The prisoner escapes from the train, in vain pursued by the superintendent who then calls for a mass search operation. Meanwhile, Corey is released from prison and before leaving he picks up his personal belongings, notably photos of a sexy girl. Corey rings the bell of an apartment. He cannot see her, but his former girlfriend is in bed with the owner of the apartment. The man opens the door, pretending to be happy to see him and trying to find a justification for not visiting him all those years. Corey coldly demands money and promises to return it. The man opens the safe and Corey is faster to grab his gun and to take all the money, replacing it with the photos of the girl. The girl is eavesdropping naked behind the bedroom's door. As soon as Corey leaves, the man phones his men to start chasing Corey. Corey walks in the still deserted streets into a pool billiard club that is still closed. Two men corner him to get the money back, but he kills one and walks away calmly. Meanwhile, a massive search for the escaped prisoner is underway in the woods. It started snowing. Corey is eating at a restaurant when he sees the fugitive hide in the trunk of his car. Corey drives him through a roadblock and into a field, and then introduces himself. They become friends. While the fugitive, Vogel, is hiding again in the trunk, Corey's car is stopped by two gangsters. They take the money and walk him to the woods where they are about to execute him when Vogel gets out of the trunk and kills them, manipulating the guns so that it looks like they killed each other. The superintendent, summoned by the police chief, claims that only he can find Vogel and begins his mission. Corey and Vogel break into an apartment where dust and spiderwebs show that nobody has lived there in years. It is probably Corey's old place, equipped with a photo of the same woman. The superintendent visits a cabaret, whose owner was a good friend of Vogel, and thratens him with arrest if he doesn't help the police track down Vogel. The cabaret owner proudly declares that he is no informer, no matter what.
Corey and Vogel discuss the plan for the heist. They need a sharpshooter. Vogel suggests a former cop, Jansen. When they phone him, Jansen is actually hallucinating: he is an unshaved drunkard. He is woken up and startled by the loud telephone ring. Meanwhile, the police found the two corpses and blood-drenched banknotes, and concluded that they killed each other, but the mystery is what happened to their car, whose tire marks are clearly visible in the mud.
Jansen shows up at a cabaret well-dressed, shaved and elegant, and is recruited by Corey and Vogel. Jansen visits a jewelry shop, pretending to be a rich customer interested in a bracelet, but in reality analyzing the security setup.
At night Corey and Vogel break into the jewelry store and immobilize the guard, while Jansen paces outside in the deserted streets towards the front of the building. Jansen enters the store, that the two opened for him, shoots a special bullet into the keyhole, so that the entire system is disabled and and all glass cabinets are unlocked. Jansen walks back to the car while the other two take all the jewelry, amounting to a huge sum. Everything goes well except that, when they approach the "fence" to sell the jewelry, the "fence" finds an excuse not to buy it. Corey leaves disappointed. He doesn't see that his rival is hiding behind the door, having instructed the "fence" not to help Corey.
Corey and Vogel ask the cabaret owner for help. The superintendent has the cabaret owner's son arrested in order to blackmail his father. The blackmail works even better than the superintendent hoped because the kid is truly guilty of a crime and even tries to kill himself.
Jansen does not want his share of the money: he already fulfilled his goal. He simply tells Corey that it would be too long to explain. At the cabaret Corey is approached by the superintendent, who, obviously tipped by the cabaret owner, is posing as a potential customer for the merchandise. The superintendent gives him an appointment at a mansion outside the city. The trio shows up. Corey walks inside to close the deal, but Vogel senses that something is wrong and interruts the conversation. The trio tries to run away but cops chase them through the park of the mansion, killing them one by one.

Un Flic/ Dirty Money (1972) is a gangster film and a heist film, but set in a cold universe of beings that behave like they have been drained of any degree of humanity. They are not cynical or greedy, they are simply devoid of emotions. The film is mostly about that mood of indifference, that existential spleen. The plot, instead, is amateurish. The longest sequences are awkward imitations of Hitchcock-style B-thrillers. Some of the gaps in the story might add to the atmosphere, though. It is never explained whether the inspector knew that the gang leader's girl was doublecrossing him (not her man). It is not even clear why she doesn't get arrested (she's the one who has committed the most heinous crime, murder). The possibility is left open that she might have helped the inspector capture her man. It is not clear why the inspector does not arrest the drug mule but lets him travel to the next station. It is not clear how the robbers know of the drug shipment (through the girl?) Why doesn't the inspector arrest the leader of the gang? We are never shown the inspector's private life. We don't know whether he is married or single, where he lives, what he does when he is not policing the neighborhood. As an action movie it is an absolute failure because the bank heist and the helicopter sequence are neither suspenseful nor spectacular. On the other hand, neither the murders and the torture are shown, an indication that the director deliberately wants to avoid sensationalism.

Four middle-aged men drive around in a deserted neighborhood by the beach on a very stormy day. Three of them get out and enter a bank. They wait for the customers to leave and then they pull out machine guns. A teller pushes the alarm button, grabs a gun and wounds one of the bandits, Marc. The others carry him and two sacks full of money to the car that is waiting outside.
Meanwhile, laconic police inspector Edouard, who never seems to smile, drives around the busy streets of the big city, indifferent to the cases that pop up during the day and the night and that seem to fill his entire time: the murder of a young woman, a teenage boy who tried to rob a rich homosexual, a trio of pickpockets.
The robbers drive to a train station and buy three tickets to confuse the police, but then they only switch car and take off in a different one. They stop in the countryside and bury the loot before heading to their respective homes.
The inspector has a night appointment with a blonde transvestite, Gaby, who is also a police informer. Gaby has learned of a drug smuggling operation that will be carried out by a drug mule named Matthew.
One of the robbers, Paul, gets home to his anxious wife. Paul is an aging former bank manager who lost his job and has trouble finding a new one because of his age. He makes his life believe that he is out searching for a new job.
The inspector walks into a night club and plays the piano. A sexy woman watches and listens. The club is owned by the very leader of the gang, Simon, and the woman, Cathy, is his girl friend, but she also behaves as if she is close to Edouard. They all know each other well. When Edouard leaves, Simon tells Cathy that the heist went well. Later Simon meets the other two and tells them that Marc, the wounded one, is a problem for them. They enter the hospital dressed like ambulance workers and distract the receptionist while Cathy, dressed like a nurse, enters the room where Marc is and kills him.
Edouard visits Cathy and they make love. Edouard is convinced that Simon has known of their affair since the beginning. Simon treats Edouard like a friend. When alone with his two accomplices, though, Simon becomes again the ringleader: the trio is planning a bigger robbery. They are using the loot from the bank heist to organize an attack on the drug smuggler, Matthieu. Paul tells his wife that he has to travel for business again. His wife is lovely and anxious about him.
Gaby informs Edouard of the exact train and coach where the police can arrest Matthieu. At the club Simon tells Cathy of his new plan. Edoaurd enters and finds them together. They all drink together. Matthieu boards the train, spied by Edouard who wants to make sure that Gaby told the truth. Edouard sees three men board the train and then leave: they just delivered the drugs to Matthieu. He stores it in a briefcase. Satisfied, Edouard leaves the station and instructs the police of the next station to arrest Matthieu.
A helicopter follows the train. The three thieves are on board. Simon lowers himself to the train, breaks into Matthieu's compartment, knocks him out and steals the briefcases with the drugs. This is a very long scene.
Matthieu wakes up and throws the remaining briefcase from the window. When the police tries to arrest him, he doesn't have any drugs. Edouard gets mad at Gaby, who leaves in tears: the transvenstite seems to be in love with Edouard, and work for him not for a sense of duty nor to avoid being arrested but because he feels for the inspector.
The police finally finds out the identity of the man who was assassinated at the hospital, and Edouard connects him with Louis, one of the four robbers. Edouard captures him at a restaurant and then tortures him in order to get the names of the other two members of the gang. Simon and Paul learned of the arrest but are confident that their buddy will never squeal. They don't know that Edouard is using illegal methods of interrogation.
Edouard leaves the police station and drives to Simon's night club. He confronts Simon implying that Louis has squealed; but then Edouard does not arrest Simon. Simon calls Paul and tells him that Louis squealed . Just then the police is parking under Paul's house. Paul shoots himself rather than end up in jail. Simon phones Cathy and Delon at the police station is eavesdropping on their phone call. Simon walks out of the night club into the deserted street, Cathy drives in, Simon starts walking towards her carrying the briefcase full of drug. Edouard arrests him. Simon puts his hand in the coat as if he were to pull a gun and Edouard kills him. Cathy watches without saying a word. She only exchanges a quick look with Edouard. When the police leave, she remains alone in the street.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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L'eroe di questi gialli "noir" è un guerriero appartenente a una casta eletta che si muove nel mondo violento della malavita; è un samurai, duro e misterioso, deciso a portare a termine la sua missione e se necessario a fare "harahiri", dedito a una causa che è segnata dal codice d'onore della malavita e dall'amicizia virile che lega i gangster; non crede in nulla, non ama nessuno; è solo contro il resto del mondo; la rapina, l'omicidio, il carcere, la fuga sono i gesti ripetitivi di un cerimoniale pagano.

I film di Melville sono costruiti intorno ai temi dell'amicizia, del tradimento, dell'onore, della solitudine. Per il resto i suoi film noir seguono fedelmente i modelli americani.

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