Wednesday, March 31, 2010

#447: Le Doulos

(Jean-Pierre Melville, 1962)

Like Veronika Voss, Melville's Le Doulos does not feel of its time, but instead seems stuck in the 1940s, maybe even in Los Angeles if the characters didn't insist on speaking French. The film isn't Melville's first noir, but it is the first film that he made that touches on the themes and elements that would be present in most of his future films (and masterpieces). It's an extremely entertaining film, first and foremost, and it's an easier viewing than Bob Le Flambeur, which is more of a moody character piece.

The movie is also deliberately misleading in its plot, and brings up the question of whether or not a director should lie to his audience. Even ignoring the subjective POV that is required to make the film's twist work, the plot developments here are impossibly convoluted, and would stretch believability if you stopped thinking for a minute that the movie was trying to resemble The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon more than reality. But, of course, no one would.

Over the course of this project, I have found renewed love in the films of Melville and Clouzot. While their films are similar, the difference lies in their attitude towards both their material and their audience. Clouzot was constantly focused on making his work entertaining and intriguing, like a puzzle. Neither director had much concern for reality, but Clouzot turned to cinema as a technique rather than a medium. Melville, on the other hand, was one of those first masters that drew on his love of film inherent to the artform, turning his films back on themselves until the only thing left was cinema itself. Both have their appeal (and their disciples) but Clouzot's work seems to stand on its own, defiant, while Melville's greatest films (with the clear exception of Army of Shadows) would have no meaning outside of the context of the gangster pictures that came before and after them. For this reason, they seem more fulfilling, even if (as in this case) they don't always measure up to Clouzot's best.

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