For Reel

Le Silence de la Mer (1949)
December 14, 2015, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: ,

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
5 Stars
La Silence de la MerUsing his host’s family room as his stage, German officer Werner (Howard Vernon) confesses his love for Beauty and the Beast, going into great lengths about Belle’s eventual understanding of the Beast’s true sensitivity. Through this conversation, Werner is more fully rounded as a cultured intellectual, but also reveals much about his own desire to announce his true soul to the man (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stephane). Crucially, Le Silence de la Mer is not simply interested in humanizing the man and, in fact, this particular context suggests that he wishes that the niece find the very beastliness of his occupation justified. It’s a loaded scene psychologically, both for the complexities of Werner’s ongoing confessional and the body language of his audience. Few films better play with the face as a mask–the uncle and his niece spend the entire film with a fixed expression, with Werner’s relationship with them developed almost entirely by what he and the audience projects onto them. Later, a similar play with stillness will be used as director Jean-Pierre Melville closes in on a picture of Adolf Hitler as gas chambers are discussed. With the content of the narrative necessitating a certain lack of expression in the performances, as well as Melville’s steadfast dedication in adapting the book through the heavy use of voice-over (the visuals serve the words rather than the other way around), Melville’s debut feature is a radical aesthetic advancement, predicting Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest by two years.

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