For Reel

Le deuxième souffle (1966)
May 20, 2011, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Perhaps no film is better suited for examining the influence of the American gangster genre on Jean-Pierre Melville than Le deuxième souffle. Like Bob of Bob le flambeur or Maurice of Le doulos, Gu is an aged gangster exiting prison and forced to interact with a “new” society in which criminal etiquette is a thing of the past.

Using Gu’s subjectivity to draw us into the world – from the very beginning of the film, we see the detailed account of his prison break and the death of his two accomplices – Melville’s vision of gangsterdom is one of paranoia and uncertainty. Watch, for example, the way that Gu quickly wakes from his sleep and, without hesitation, arms himself with a pistol. While little is revealed about Gu (it is suggested that he was committed for a “gold train” heist ten years prior to the beginning of the film), it is in these actions that the audience gets a sense of not only Gu’s professionalism, but the way in which he never allows his guard to drop.

The centerpiece of the film – the heist – is thoroughly planned and shot in real time. Melville as the observer shoots such sequences with a detached objectivity – just as Jef of Le samouraï is a meticulous craftsman, Melville seems to similarly admire the precision of these characters. In fact, at the beginning of the heist, a long stretch of film is given to the gangsters simply waiting for the arrival of the truck. This matter-of-fact, unromanticized account of crime reminded me of last year’s Police, Adjective, wherein the life of a cop is presented as being monotonous and uneventful. The violence in this film is also ugly, stressing the consequences of each bullet fired.

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