It’s no exaggeration to say that the French aren’t exactly short of great film directors. Bresson, Godard, Clouzot, Truffaut, Varda, Tati, Chabrol, Rohmer, Demy – the list goes on and on. Jean-Pierre Melville is easily up there with such vaunted company. Much of his work was influenced by his time serving in the French Resistance in World War II (and that’s where he adopted his nom de guerre -‘Melville’). However, he’s most famous for his crime film. Indeed, he’s the kingpin of French crime cinema. Whilst many directors focus on the specifics, he liked to linger on the criminals themselves; refusing to simply write them off as bad. He’s arguably the most influential French film-maker and despite only making thirteen films, had a profound influence on the nouvelle vague. Studiocanal have brought six of his best together in this new Blu-ray collection.
Bob le Flambeur
After serving time for a notorious bank job, Bob (Roger Duchesne) has eschewed crime for a career as a gambler. He’s well-liked amongst the hedonists who occupy the dive bars and gambling joints of the Pigalle area of Paris. When his luck finally deserts him, Bob jumps at the chance for one last big heist. Bob le Flambeur is arguable Melville’s best film, and with the likes of Anne (Isabelle Corey) and Paulo (Daniel Cauchy) throws two generations together; chucking in themes of loyalty, jealousy and greed for good measure. It was his first great film and has been highly influential on modern cinema.
Léon Morin, Priest
Living in the occupied French Alps during World War II, Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) is a spirited Communist and sexually frustrated widow. One day she decides to go to confession and goad a priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo), which leads to the pair striking up an unusual friendship. Essentially, Léon Morin, Priest is an intellectual and existential ongoing debate between the pair. Riva and Belmondo are both astonishing in their roles. Whilst he’s determined to guide her on the right path she’s resolved to lead him astray.
Freshly out of prison, Maurice Faugel (Serge Reggiani) quickly plans another robbery with Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Rémy (Philippe Nahon). However, they’re informed upon and the job goes wrong; leaving a policeman dead. The police hunt Faugel who they suspect of killing a fence named Gilbert (René Lefèvre), whilst trying to discover the identity of the killer. Le Doulos focuses on crime and the criminals; especially honour amongst thieves. It shot imaginatively, with great use of light and shadow, and features some memorable scenes.
Army of Shadows
Based on Joseph Kessel’s book of the same name which recounts his wartime experiences in the French Resistance, Army of Shadows is a bleak and unglamorous portrayal of the struggle under occupation. Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) is head of a network in Marseilles. He and his men (including Paul Crauchet, Christian Barbier and Jean-Pierre Cassel) do their best to thwart the Nazis along with the help from their contact Mathilde (Simone Signoret) in Paris. Army of Shadows is an immersive and compelling drama about the unsung heroes of World War II.
Le Cercle Rouge
Before Corey (Alain Delon) is released from jail, he gets a tip from a warder about a jewellery shop in Paris which is ripe for the picking. At the same time, Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè) is being transported by train in the custody of a policeman (Bourvil). He escapes, eventually encounters Corey. The pair agree to team-up to carry-out the robbery. Le Cercle Rouge is a brilliantly-plotted heist movie. The ending is one of the most iconic in crime cinema.
Delon and Melville team up again on the director’s final film, Un Flic. Simon (Richard Crenna) and his gang flee the scene of a bank robbery with only half the money and a fatally injured member. He owns a bar which is visited regularly by a police detective (Delon). Not one to rest on his laurels, Simon has a new and audacious plan. In his final foray, once again Melville focusses on the interactions between criminals as much as the criminality itself. Un Flic is a tour de force of crime drama.
- NEW Interview with first assistant director Volker Schlondorff – 20 minutes
- NEW retrospective documentary by the film critic Dominique Maillet – 20 minutes
- NEW Master class with Philippe Labro (friend and apprentice of Melville) + Rémy Grumbach (Melville’s nephew) – 59 minutes
- Interview with Le Cercle Rouge’s first assistant director Bernard Stora – 30 minutes
- L’armée des ombres… le dessous des cartes” (Army of Shadows: the hidden side of the story) documentary – 87 minutes
- Documentary featuring interviews with Un Flic’s script supervisor Florence Moncorgé-Gabin and first assistant director Jean-François Delon -24 minutes
- Code Name Melville – 76 minutes
- Interview with first assistant
- director Bernard Stora – 30 minutes
- Interview with novelist José Giovanni – 15 minutes
- Présentation by Ginette Vincendeau 21’30
- In the mood for Melville documentary – 52 minutes
- 24 Heures de la vie d’un clown – Melville short – 22 minutes
Melville – The Essential Collection is released on Blu-ray by Studiocanal on 11 December.