Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Melville touch

French director Jean-Pierre Melville has been very, very good to Rialto Pictures, which has refurbised and re-released several of his pictures, and New York's Film Forum, which has exhibited them to great acclaim and SRO business. The last, Army of Shadows, topped numerous Top 10 lists, including my own. 1962's Le Doulos, which opens tomorrow, is a classic, black-and-white noir, highlighted by an eight-minute interrogation sequence shot in a single panning take in a glassed-in room--but something of a disappointment, if you compare it with the elegantly abstracted films that followed, like Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge. There, plot is subordinate to mood, sometimes a little too offhandedly so as the inscrutable gangsters-and-cops machinations unfold. In contrast, Le Doulos is all plot; so much so, the film has to double back to voiceover-heavy flashbacks to explain it all. Fortunately, that ending is not the ending, as the picture goes on for a few more beats, with a double-twist climax and an impeccably conceived final shot involving a hat. Haberdashery meant the world to Melville, and if there is a better-attired character than Jean-Paul Belmondo's possible doulos ("stoolpigeon") in a picture of this type than it was probably in another Melville film.

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