Jean-Pierre Melville’s Cinema of Resistance


“This is how you should attend the forthcoming retrospective of Jean-Pierre Melville movies at Film Forum: Tell nobody what you are doing. Even your loved ones—especially your loved ones—must be kept in the dark. If it comes to a choice between smoking and talking, smoke. Dress well but without ostentation. Wear a raincoat, buttoned and belted, regardless of whether there is rain. Any revolver should be kept, until you need it, in the pocket of the coat. Finally, before you leave home, put your hat on. If you don’t have a hat, you can’t go. Melville was born almost a hundred years ago, on October 20, 1917. The centennial jamboree starts on April 28th and ends on May 11th, followed by a weeklong run of ‘Léon Morin, Priest’ (1961), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo in the title role. … In all, the festival, which after New York will travel to other cities, comprises twelve features and one short. Only a single work is missing, a rarity entitled ‘Magnet of Doom’ (1963). Melville was far from prolific, and his death, from a heart attack, in 1973, came too soon; he was only fifty-five. On the other hand, he compensated for the modest tally of his films by insuring that pretty much every one is a gem. String them together, and you end up with a necklace to die for—a necklace, let us say, like the one in ‘Bob le Flambeur’ (1955) that a croupier named Jean (Claude Cerval) lays proudly on the pillow of his wife, whom he is striving to please. She immediately asks where he got the money to buy it. We don’t see the conversation that ensues, but we don’t need to, because we know what will happen. In Melville country, all slopes are slippery, some of them fatally so. The safe at the Deauville casino, where Jean plies his trade, is rumored to contain eight hundred million francs, and a heist is in the offing. He is the inside man, who is paid in advance for his troubles, only to blow his money on the trinket. A classic error, this: the minor gesture, often well meant, that gives the game away. Thus, in ‘Army of Shadows’ (1969), set during the wartime struggles of the French Resistance, the heroine is serenely efficient, fearless, and discreet, save for one tiny weakness. In her handbag, against the advice of a comrade, she carries a picture of her daughter. When the Gestapo arrest her, they find it and use it, promising to send the daughter to a brothel on the Eastern Front unless her mother complies with their demands. Such is the price of love. One thing to know about Melville is that he was not Melville. He was somebody else. …”
New Yorker
W – Jean-Pierre Melville
The Essentials: The 10 Greatest Jean-Pierre Melville Films
senses of cinema
Guardian: Poet of the underworld
The Criterion Collection (Video)
Jean-Pierre Melville: Criminal Codes (Video)
Jean-Pierre Melville: The Moral Dimension of Crime
Un flic: art and artifice (and also cars and hats and blondes)
vimeo: To Become Immortal… and Then Die: A Jean-Pierre Melville Primer
YouTube: Jean-Pierre Melville, Interview (1970)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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