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The Silence of the Sea, 1947
[La Silence de la Mer]

Stephane/VernonIn an idyllic provincial town of occupied France, two German soldiers come upon the secluded home of an old man (Jean-Marie Robian) and his niece (Nicole Stephane), in search of a boarding house. One evening, a German officer named Werner von Ebrennac (Howard Vernon) introduces himself as the new household tenant. Despite their deliberate silence towards the German stranger, von Ebrennac is respectful and considerate, stopping by the living room to greet the residents before retiring to his room for the evening: admiring their home, sharing the warmth of a fire. Soon, he changes his evening ritual by changing into civilian clothes before visiting them, politely knocking before imposing himself into the company of the old man, smoking his pipe, and his niece, engrossed in knitting. As in Ingmar Bergman's Persona, he fills the silence by speaking casually about his life: his past love, beliefs, literature, music. He reveals that he is a great admirer of French culture, believing that the German occupation is an equitable union of two nations that will contribute to the greatness of Europe, and that France will heal the pervasive cruelty of his country. However, during a highly anticipated trip to Paris, von Ebrennac learns the underlying plans of his compatriots, and is forced to reconcile with his allegiance and culpability.

Jean-Pierre Melville's The Silence of the Sea is a beautifully realized, lyrically haunting film on compassion, love, and human decency. At the heart of the film is the gentle von Ebrennac's indoctrination into the reality and consequence of war. Symbolically, Melville uses the recurring image of von Ebrennac standing against the burning fire, reflecting his inner conflict through light and shadows. Using isolated framing and variable distance close-ups similar to Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, Melville reflects the family's shifting perception towards von Ebrennac. Note the transition from the ominous first encounter showing a harshly lit, upward shot of von Ebrennac, to the perspective cuts of his face divided by light and shadow as he plays the organ, to his agonizing visit after his trip to Paris, as he looks overhead at the figure of an angel. In an oppressive society resigned to cruelty and persecution, von Ebrennac's idealism serves as a reaffirmation of the innate goodness of the human soul - struggling from being extinguished - finding validation, acceptance, and community in a foreign land, among silent, defiant enemies.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Bob le Flambeur, 1955
[Bob the Gambler]


DecombleEven in the underworld of professional gangsters and organized crime, there exists an implicit social structure. At the top of this criminal hierarchy is Bob (Roger Duchesne), an impeccably dressed, well-mannered reformed bank robber with a penchant for, or rather an addiction to, gambling. In fact, so well regarded is he that even the police inspector, Ledru (Guy Decomble), is a personal friend who shuttles him around town in a patrol car. Bob spends every waking moment engrossed in the game of chance. We first meet him in the back room of a closed nightclub playing dice, leave for another lounge where a poker game is in progress, then return home at dawn. One day, a petty criminal named Marc (Gerard Buhr) interrupts his sleep, asking for assistance. Marc has physically abused a prostitute named Lydia and is in danger of being identified to the police. Disapproving of Marc's disreputable trade, he refuses to help, and Marc is arrested by Inspector Ledru. However, after striking a deal to serve as a police informant, Marc is released and begins to seek out a replacement for Lydia. One evening, Marc walks into a local bar with an underaged girl named Anne (Isabelle Corey). Bob comes to her aid by driving Marc away, inviting Anne to his table, and introducing him to his protégé, Paolo (Daniel Cauchy), who immediately falls in love with her. And so Bob's daily ritual emerges: meeting his friends, teaching Paolo the tricks of the trade, making the rounds of the back room gambling circuit. While visiting a Deauville casino, a former acquaintance named Jean (Claude Cerval), now working as a croupier, reveals that a sizable fortune is locked away at the casino safe. Inevitably, the temptation of a final heist is too strong for Bob to avoid, and devises a plan to crack the safe.

A profound influence on Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville creates a stylish, atmospheric, and highly innovative portrait of the elegant criminal in Bob le Flambeur. Through incongruous soundtrack and odd angle camerawork, Melville redefines conventional cinema and ushers the nouvelle vague movement: the reflection of the gamblers against a dark window; a multi-perspective shot of a street cleaning vehicle circling the rotunda; an overhead shot of Bob pacing in the kitchen. Melville's use of minimal, directed, high contrast lighting serves as a cinematic bridge between American film noir and traditional French cinema. The result is an engrossing film on fraternity, human nature, chance, and inescapable destiny - as original and incomparable as the charismatic gambler himself.


© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Le Samouraï, 1967
[The Samurai]

DelonLe Samouraï opens to a shot of rain beating onto the window of a darkened room. At the corner of the frame, a puff of smoke emanates from a lit cigarette. An occasional shrill chirp is heard from a caged bird. The rest is silence. An impassive man, Jef Costello (Alain Delon), rises from the bed, dons his trenchcoat and fedora, and leaves the room. On the street is an unlocked car. He sits in the driver's seat, produces a set of master keys from his coat, and methodically tries each key until the ignition starts, then speeds away. He then visits his lover, Jane Lagrange (Nathalie Delon) in order to arrange an alibi. But she is meeting her suitor, a respectable older man named Wiener (Michel Boisrond) later in the evening, and will not be able to provide him with a complete alibi. A second stop at a back room poker game is needed, and Jef has an alibi for the remainder of the evening. Soon, his actions become clear; he has been hired by an anonymous syndicate to kill the owner of a popular night club. However, things do not go according to plan. On the way out of the owner's office after the murder, he is spotted by a number of employees, including a lounge pianist, Valerie (Caty Rosier), who stares him in the face. However, in a puzzling turn of events, Valerie will not identify Jef as the killer despite her clear recognition of him, and the inspector (Francois Perier) is compelled to release him. Meanwhile, the syndicate learns of Jef's police detention and, troubled by the potential discovery of their association, hires a second contract killer to silence Jef. Now hunted by both the police and the syndicate, Jef is forced to rely on his own instincts to survive.

Jean-Pierre Melville creates a precise, taut, and elegant film in Le Samouraï. Jef's inscrutable, Bressonian demeanor (note the similarity of Jef's countenance with Michel's in Robert Bresson's Pickpocket) is reflected through the use of austere colors (blues and grays), inclement weather, and pervasive silence to create an unnatural and unnerving atmosphere. Furthermore, the repeated image of the caged bird, the police interrogation and surveillance, and the pursuit in the Paris Metro (intercut with disorienting images of the position indicators lighting the intricate subway map), contribute to a sense of entrapment, as Jef attempts to evade everyone while pursuing Valerie, believing that she holds the key to the identities of the anonymous syndicate. Inevitably, Jef finds himself returning to the scene of the crime, to confront the enigmatic Valerie, and in the process, face his own destiny.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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