Mr Klein

Monsieur Klein in the shadows

Mr Klein is a film about a mindset as much as a man or an event. The event is the Holocaust, the mindset is of a man called Mr Klein, played by Alain Delon, a French art dealer who, one day in 1942 in Nazi-occupied Paris, is tagged as being a Jew. But he isn’t Jewish, Mr Klein insists. Why the idea is laughable, absurd. Somewhere in Paris there’s obviously another Monsieur Klein who is Jewish, but I’m not that guy. This is nothing more than a simple case of mistaken identity. And for the rest of the film Monsieur Klein keeps up his protestations, turning detective to try and flush out the … Read more

Spirits of the Dead

Jane Fonda as the cruel Contessa de Metzengerstein

The film equivalent of the collateralised debt obligation, the portmanteau movie generally bundles together stuff of questionable quality then sells it on using a big name or a big star to help it achieve a decent credit rating. In Spirits of the Dead (aka Tales of Mystery and Imagination), three adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe tales, there are plenty of big names – Federico Fellini, Roger Vadim and Louis Malle as directors. Stars such as Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Jane Fonda and Terence Stamp. But no matter how glossy the name, or even how polished the product, the rule of the portmanteau movie applies here as everywhere else – the finished product is less … Read more

The Sicilian Clan

Lino Ventura, Jean Gabin, Alain Delon

The golden age of hijacking (1968-1972) was just peaking in 1969 when The Sicilian Clan (Le Clan des Siciliens) debuted, a French heist movie itself hijacked – twice! – by a plot involving the illegal commandeering of a plane and by a superannuated screen star who really shouldn’t be in it. It’s really, at bottom, one of those heist movies in which security cameras, pressure sensors, alarms, iron bars, motion sensors and all the modern security paraphernalia have to be overcome by a gang smart and greedy enough to have a go. And that looks to be exactly what we’re getting as first our main guy, Roger Sartet (Alain Delon), is introduced, a … Read more

Un Flic

One of the gang with Coleman

A Cop – the title is just as bald in French, Un Flic, and in opening scenes featuring a bank job carried out by clichéd robbers in trench coats and wearing hats, the writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville appears to be having a bit of a laugh, possibly at his own expense. Who, in 1972, was still wearing a hat? Why are three men who are trying to appear as if they don’t know each other all dressed the same way? Who, planning a bank job in a small town in Northern France, decides a big wallowy American car is the ideal getaway vehicle? The bank job goes wrong. A teller is killed. One of … Read more


Alain Delon and Monica Vitti

Existential girl Monica Vitti meets material boy Alain Delon in L’Eclisse (The Eclipse), the last of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Incommunicability” trilogy and by a stretch the easiest to watch. Whether this, L’Avventura and La Notte actually are thematically a trilogy at all is an argument best left for another day, but Antonioni didn’t see them that way – it was critics who lumped them together. What does definitely link all three is Monica Vitti – as a peripheral character who becomes much more important in L’Avventura, as chunky co-lead in La Notte but absolutely the main event here, from first shot to last. Antonioni starts the film with a brilliant scene set in a … Read more

The Leopard

Burt Lancaster as the Prince

The movie-as-oil-painting prize goes to The Leopard, Luchino Visconti’s majestic, magnificent, magical magnum opus from 1963, a contender in all the serious forums for best looking film ever made but also a triumph as an examination of a society, a politics and a psychology in flux. It’s an adaptation of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s only novel – a best-seller to this day – and follows it closely. There is no real plot, in other words, more a series of tableaux from the life of a mid-19th-century Sicilian prince as he and his family are buffeted by change, brought about first of all by Garibaldi’s revolutionary Red Shirts, busy unifying Italy (re-unifying, if we’re counting … Read more

Le Samouraï

Alain Delon

Jean-Pierre Melville’s stylish 1967 hitman flick Le Samouraï has danced down the decades, leaving its mark on everything from William Friedkin’s The French Connection, to Walter Hill’s The Driver (and, by extension, Nicolas Winding Refn’s homage, Drive), Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, Anton Corbijn’s The American and the Coens’ No Country for Old Men. Even John Wick can trace its ancestry back to Le Samouraï, Keanu Reeves being a 21st century update on the lone wolf operator going into battle against forces known and unknown. The opening shot alone makes Le Samouraï noteworthy. A darkened room, a man lying on a bed. The camera does one of those perspective-altering Vertigo zooms, gets about halfway into … Read more

Le Cercle Rouge

Vogel and Corey face off

Le Cercle Rouge, Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1970 gangster-heist movie, starts with a quote from the Buddha about all men eventually finding themselves inside the red circle. Regardless of what they think they’re up to, or how self-determined their actions are, human beings cannot outwit fate. The quote is entirely bogus, having been written by Melville himself, who picks up and drops the idea of fate/luck/chance throughout his movie, relying on it to operate when he needs a fanciful meeting of two key characters to occur, for example, but keeping it out of the picture for the film’s centrepiece, a long, silent heist sequence. The film is a self-assured and elegant exercise in style and … Read more