24 July 2003 | StevieGB
Dull with some good bits
I saw this at London's National Film Theatre last night and I must admit to being more than a little bit disappointed. This appears to mark the turning point where Melville lost all real interest in character (after the wonderful Le Doulos and the underrated L'Aine Des Ferchaux) and turned his attention to set piece robberies and shoot outs. The problem is, that this is still a long and wordy script, with an awful lot of very pointless talk, connecting up some visually excellent scenes. The highlight of the film, the hijack of an armoured car on a deserted mountain road, foreshadows the action techniques -shaky camerawork, fast cutting - used by Ridley Scott in Black Hawk Down, Gladiator and Hannibal; unfortunately it's over in seconds. There are other great scenes, but dramatically they lead nowhere. For example, one gangster scouts the site of an intended meeting, works out where he might be standing when there's trouble, and hides a gun nearby. When he leaves, an adversary comes into the room, goes through the same thought processes, and finds and removes the gun. But the scene never pays off, as the first gangster never ends up reaching for the missing weapon. Performance wise two people stand out - Paul Meurisse as the compassionate, intelligent and very, very funny Inspector Blot, and Pierre Zimmer as Orloff, the gangster who serves as the moral touchstone for his peers.
About three quarters of the way through the film turns from an escaped convict and heist movie into the story of a man trying to prove that he hasn't been a police informer/collaborator. As with a lot of Melville's gangster vs police movies (a big favourite with the French) you can't help feeling that he's really dealing with the issue of wartime resistance to the German occupation. To my mind, though, Melville seems more interested in shoring up the myth of resistance rather than dealing with the truth (as Louis Malle tried to in Lacombe, Lucien, resulting in his effective exile from France for the rest of his life).
The scene where Paul is interrogated by the police was apparently edited at the insistence of France's censors to remove the scenes of water being poured down his throat. What remains is a very obviously edited scene which doesn't work.
Anyway, not an awful movie, but a messy one. Can't help feeling that maybe Melville got interested in something else and couldn't be bothered to finish it properly.
Fell asleep twice.