Saturday, April 17, 2010

#448: Le Deuxième Souffle

(1966, Jean-Pierre Melville)

Le Deuxième Souffle is another Melville masterpiece. It's a film that straddles the line between abstract fatalism and procedural realism, balancing complex time stamps with the protagonist's uninterrupted journey towards an inescapable end. It's also a movie in love with movies, torn between the pulp its ideas stem from and the gritty truths only attainable through film. Melville is perhaps best know for his heist sequences, and this one doesn't disappoint: from the moment the characters gather in a room to discuss the deed to the final scene of them silently stacking hay over the boxes of platinum they stole, the sequence is unbelievably riveting. Like the best noir, the film's plot can be confusing at first, but once you put in the minor work, it all falls into place.

Besides A Man Escaped, which serves as a kind of reverse blueprint for Melville here, maybe the movie I was reminded of most during the film was The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Like that film, the protagonist's fate seems sealed from the very beginning, and the cold-blooded and meticulous crimes depicted are both terrifying and oddly mechanical. They are also complex crime tales that give everyone their own motives and hidden plans, making the films that much more rich and realistic.

I had said earlier that Meville is much more successful with color, but here is a film where he really uses black and white as well as anyone. One need only look to the first sequence, the prison escape, to confirm this: it's as beautiful and visually compelling as any sequence in the greatest of noir. Melville is quietly becoming one of my favorite directors.

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