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Ginette Vincendeau ~ Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris

Imagine going through life as a self-considered devotee of the cinema, with favorite directors (Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Tarantino, to name a few) occupying a place of worship in my heart. Imagine, then, a sudden discovery of a whole body of work, an auteur, who becomes your sole cinematic obsession. I’d heard of Bob la flambeur for years, but it was only a few months ago I sat down to watch it, and I was instantly smitten. I now own DVDs of most of the work of French father of the New Wave, Jean-Pierre Melville, and I still haven’t seen all of them.

There are incredible policiers, noirs of the highest sophistication, tales of the French Resistance (in which Melville played some as-yet-still-questionable part), adaptations of contemporary French literature (Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfant Terribles), star turns by Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Simone Signoret.

This monograph of his ouevre is a passionate, essential piece for Melville fans; so much detail, great chronicling of production, criticism of the work during Melville’s lifetime and beyond, and intensely intuitive exegesis of each of the films.

The book made me want to watch those films I’ve not yet seen (Leon Morin, Priest, Army of Shadows, Silence de la mer (his 3 Resistance films) and revisit all those I’ve come to love for their anti-heroes of alienation, their safe-cracking artistes, their expressionist/minimalist images (Bob, Un Flic, Les Samourai, Le Circle Rouge, Two Gentlemen of Manhattan, Le Douxieme Souffle, Le Doulos).

One of the under-sung giants of film.

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