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Bob Le Flambeur (1956)


Dark Streets, Dark Lives: The Cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville Centennial
4 Mondays, March 19 to April 9, 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm
Instructor: Maurizio Giammarco, Ph.D., Intellectual Heritage Program, Temple University
Location: Multimedia Room
Cost: $100 for members, $125 for non-members
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Influenced by American cinema, especially the crime dramas of the 1930s and 1940s, and utilizing the tropes associated with those films—rain-slicked streets, trench coats and fedoras, desperate men and duplicitous women, existential ennui—Jean-Pierre Melville created a unique cinematic vision that not only paid homage to that notable genre, but also reinvented it. His films reflect a tragic, minimalist, and subversive directorial voice whose eloquence would influence the French New Wave, as well as generations of international filmmakers, such as Quentin Tarantino, Luc Besson, John Woo, and Wong Kar-Wai. To celebrate the centenary of Melville's birth and his importance as a filmmaker, we will explore four of his best-known and more influential works.

Bob Le Flambeur (1956) is a stylish, witty film about the gamblers and criminals in the Pigalle district of Montmartre, but it is clearly infatuated with the American gangster films of Bogart, Cagney, and Raft. The narrative involves the silver-haired, trench-coated Bob, a former thief turned gambler, who, along with a team of thieves, devises a plan to steal 800 million francs from the Deauville casino. Melville turns the doom-laden fatalism of film noir into a playful, improvisational jazz riff reflected in the free-spirited, spontaneous camerawork of Henri Decaë (Jules and Jim), the Bogart-esque cool of Bob, and the insouciant eroticism of the young woman Bob protects.

Army of Shadows (1969) is considered Melville’s most personal work, informed in large measure by his involvement in the French Resistance during World War II. Fictionalized, but based on a true account of the underground movement in Nazi-occupied France, Army of Shadows follows a small band of Resistance fighters as they attempt to evade capture and torture amidst a hostile, unforgiving world filled with betrayal and death. It is a war film that resembles a crime thriller—tense, brutal, elegant—and this generic ambiguity provides insight into Melville's attitude toward crime and criminals throughout his oeuvre.

Le Cercle Rouge (1970) brings together legends of the French screen Alain Delon and Yves Montand in Melville's penultimate film that is regarded as one of the crowning achievements of French noir. The half hour-long heist sequence, wordless, and excruciatingly intense, has now become legendary, culminating in an unforgettable climax that affirms the adage, “All men are criminals.” But as Melville often demonstrated in his films, the bonds of brotherhood, forged among thieves are compelling reminders of the humanity that resides within each man.

Melville's final film,
Un Flic (1972), is a distillation of the thematic preoccupations and techniques that have defined the director's work throughout his career. Alain Delon is a stoic cop in relentless pursuit of a suave nightclub owner and notorious thief (Richard Crenna) whom he knows all too intimately. Catherine Deneuve, in a quiet, touching performance, is the femme fatale torn between these two different men. The wordless opening robbery of a beachside, rain-swept bank is one of the director's most marvelous set pieces, establishing the grey, cold, depleted underside to Melville's more lively depictions of urban life found in other works. The filmmaker conveys the emotional, erotic, and homoerotic undercurrents among his characters through a sub-textual code of wardrobe, decor, gestures, and glances. In this regard, Un Flic becomes essential viewing for anyone interested in understanding the world of Jean-Pierre Melville.
Sessions · Click to add to calendar
  • Monday, March 19
    6:30pm 2018-03-19 18:30:00 2018-03-19 22:00:00 America/New_York Dark Streets, Dark Lives: The Cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville http://brynmawrfilm.org/education/class.php?id=2233 Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Bryn Mawr, PA
  • Monday, March 26
    6:30pm 2018-03-26 18:30:00 2018-03-26 22:00:00 America/New_York Dark Streets, Dark Lives: The Cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville http://brynmawrfilm.org/education/class.php?id=2233 Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Bryn Mawr, PA
  • Monday, April 2
    6:30pm 2018-04-02 18:30:00 2018-04-02 22:00:00 America/New_York Dark Streets, Dark Lives: The Cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville http://brynmawrfilm.org/education/class.php?id=2233 Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Bryn Mawr, PA
  • Monday, April 9
    6:30pm 2018-04-09 18:30:00 2018-04-09 22:00:00 America/New_York Dark Streets, Dark Lives: The Cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville http://brynmawrfilm.org/education/class.php?id=2233 Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Bryn Mawr, PA