Army of Shadows

Lino Ventura as Philippe Gerbier

Jean-Pierre Melville is slightly off his turf in 1969’s Army of Shadows (aka L’Armée des Ombres). No trenchcoat-wearing criminals driving American cars. Instead he gives us a slice through the activities of the French Resistance during the Second World War. Like all his late-era film, from 1966’s Le Deuxième Souffle to 1972’s Un Flic, Army of Shadows is an absolute must-see. Joseph Kessel, who wrote the original book, had been in the Resistance himself and based it on his own experiences. Melville, too, had been a member and is keen to present a nuts-and-bolts, warts-and-all portrait of the men and women who risked everything to help rid their country of the Nazi invader. … 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

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 Deuxième Souffle

Gu in a car pointing a gun

The title of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1966 gangster drama Le Deuxième Souffle is often translated as The Second Wind, though The Last Gasp would also work pretty well, since it’s a story about a career criminal breaking out of jail and trying to get out of France with his woman. Stuck for cash, the fugitive takes part in a “one last job” heist, which does indeed turn out to be his one last job. Lino Ventura plays the criminal Gu, short for Gustave, so ruthless a character that Melville puts up a disclaimer before the film that he personally does not condone any of the actions that the audience are about to see on … 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

Bob Le Flambeur

The original poster for Bob Le Flambeur

If you’ve seen Frank Oz’s garbled heist movie The Score, starring Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando and Edward Norton, you might have asked how come three acting legends were inveigled into appearing in something so average. The answer is Bob Le Flambeur, the “one last heist” film they obviously thought they were channelling. Reeking of the late 40s but made in the 50s just as France was about to embark on the New Wave, it is the last word in Parisian chic, a mix of Gallic savoir faire, American hats and cars, dialogue drawled out the side of the mouth and jazz pouring out of radios, bars and nightclubs. Roger Duchesne plays white-haired … Read more