The channel is dedicating an evening to the French filmmaker who revolutionized crime fiction and cinema altogether. An enigmatic character, a documentary lifts the veil on a man who has always advanced masked.
“Did I create this character or am I just what I am?“, wonders sibylline Jean-Pierre Melville in an archive visible on the documentary, Jean-Pierre Melville, the last Samurai by Cyril Leuthy broadcast on Arte this Sunday at 11:15 p.m., and already available online. And in fact the author of Doulos, of Second breath or Red circle (broadcast in the first part of the evening on the channel), liked to hide behind a pair of dark glasses, the skull covered with a Stetson. He did not hesitate to drive in the streets of Paris at the wheel of an “American” – Cadillac or Plymouth – poorly adapted to the road. Melville seemed to come out of a 1940s film noir. In the magnificent first sequence of said documentary, we see him in a room of his country house closing the shutters one by one so that the daylight cannot shed its rays. . It was in the dark that the filmmaker, born in 1917 and died fifty-five years later, was at his ease. In the dark, far from the company of men.
Code name Melville
Melville. Even the name is a fake. Melville was actually called Grumbach, he came from an Alsatian Jewish family, but grew up in Paris. Cinema – first as a spectator and later as a director – will be a means of seeing the world differently and above all of fleeing reality. The first big crack in his life came when he was 15 when his father died suddenly from a heart attack. At the Grumbach, we are modest, we say nothing. No shedding. Jean-Pierre internalizes, suffers in silence. Then comes the war, the Second, the one where you have to quickly choose your side. Grumbach code name Melville, in homage to the author of Moby Dick, joined the Resistance and even managed to join De Gaulle in London. This clandestine “adventure” of which he will keep a tenacious nostalgia, he will draw his masterpiece from it, Army of shadows (1969).
After the War, Melville remains Melville and launches out, alone, in the cinema. Without means or authorization, he adapts The silence of the Sea de Vercors, drama in occupied France. On the screen, there is already a sense of purity and a seriousness that command respect. Melville doesn’t give a damn about corporations and films in the open air, as he breathes. The future filmmakers of the New Wave (Truffaut, Godard and the others) will remember it). Flattered to be considered as a godfather by a whole young film buff, the distant filmmaker explained with irony: “I realized overnight that I had about fifty children. Since I couldn’t recognize them all, I didn’t adopt any of them!“
Alone again and again. Soon, he set up rue Jenner in Paris his own film studios. He lives on site with his wife and cats just above the film sets. “In the middle of the night, I put on my dressing gown, I go downstairs and here I am in the background. There, in peace, I can think about my staging.“Studios will accidentally burn down while filming the other cornerstone of Melvillian cinema, The Samurai 1967, abstract film noir with a sublimely silent Alain Delon.
Melville’s cinema is best known for its American-inspired metaphysical thrillers. An inspiration never overwhelming as he managed to transcend the original matter to make his own creatures. The Doulos (1962) with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani, “in this film all the characters lie, it’s a documentary about lying“; The second breath (1966) which marks his meeting with Lino Ventura; The Samurai ; The red circle (1970) with a Bourvil in a tragic misuse and A cop (1972), a rainy film as abstract as The Samurai with the duo Delon – Catherine Deneuve.
In full light
“I love the cinema, I don’t love myself!“confessed Melville in his deep and monotonous voice that he knew how to make go up in towers on film sets. Misanthrope, he got angry with all his favorite actors: Belmondo never wanted to finish filming The eldest of the Ferchaux, Lino Ventura no longer wanted to speak directly to him in his face. The latter, lucid, will say after the grueling filming of Second breath, “A film like that cannot be done with impunity. You have to pay it!“And finally Alain Delon, whom he nevertheless considered to be a son.
Jean-Pierre Melville died in the middle of a meal of a heart attack at the age of 55. Like his father and grandfather before him. Today – from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, from Bucharest to Seoul – there is not a filmmaker who tackles a thriller without thinking of him. His shadow is now everywhere. In full light.
Jean-Pierre Melville evening on Arte with the broadcast of Red Circle at 8:55 p.m. followed by the documentary, Melville, the last samurai at 11:15 p.m.