For Reel

Le doulos (1962)
May 20, 2011, 9:49 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Embracing the genre conventions of the American film noir, Le doulos is a convoluted B-grade policier too satisfied with its own twists. Melville’s technique of withholding information is successfully disorienting, though all ambiguities are extinguished in a baffling sequence late in the film in which the characters sit down and discuss exactly what has transpired scene-by-scene through a utilization of flashbacks.

Though the plot might be laborious, the performances of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani elevate the material. Reggiani, like the titular character of Bob le flambeur, is an aged, weary gangster just having served a prison sentence. Like the films that precede it, the film glorifies the criminals through a romanticization of their loyalty to one another (which is somewhat ironic, given that the central anxiety of the film is betrayal). Belmondo, who had become an international star only two years earlier in Breathless, is well suited to play the film’s most unpredictable character. Initially appearing as little more than a common thug, his intelligence is key to the latter half of the picture.

Melville himself emerges as an unreliable narrator in his misleading telling of the narrative. In withholding information to the audience, however, the plot becomes consciously driven by his own devices rather than by the actions of the characters themselves. Given a more satisfying reveal, perhaps his gimmickry would have been better justified.

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