2 August 2015 | Ore-Sama
What I find is that a great film of great length, whether slow paced or not, is life a sheep in wolf's clothing. However intimidating a run time may look, the greats go by quicker than many 90 minute efforts. Whether it's Solaris(1972) and Andrei Rubev(1966) in just short o9f 3 hours, or Seven Samurai(1954) and Godfather II(1974) in excess of 200 minutes, there films to me never feel their length and always justify it. While many have commented on "Second Wind" (using the English title for simplicity's sake) running time, rest assured, it too is deceptive.
The film opens abruptly into the finale of an escape sequence from prison, giving no breathing room as you are thrown into the action. One man dies but the other two make it out, as we go to an atmospheric opening credits sequence of the two running through the forest, with little to no music. Only one of the escapees is of concern to us, Gustave Minda (regularly called Gu), put behind bars for a train robbery gone wrong. He comes back to his old stomping grounds, rescuing his sister and loyal friend from a pair of thugs. Their murder further brings heat down on him in a case led by Blot, a wise cracking but crafty inspector. Many plot points are running intersect, including a battle over the cigarette business and the forming of a heist, the latter of which Gu is drawn into in order to have some money when he leaves the country. While there are a lot of characters and going ons to keep track of, as long as one is paying attention, following along is simple, as Melville masterfully brings these plot points together.
This is a dialogue and character heavy movie, making it more similar to "Bob the Gambler" (1955) than "Le Samurai(1967). While maybe not as snappy as Godard, or Tarantino for a more modern example, Melville's films were always strong in dialogue, and this is no exception. This movie is composed of a string of home running scenes. Whether it's humorous, like inspector Blot's sarcastic rant on the unwillingness of a restaurant's employees and customers to comment on the shooting that had occurred, or serious, such as a trio of gangsters confronting a man they believe set them up, there are no wasted scenes or dull moments, whether five minutes or twenty. There's nothing here story wise that is of particularly new ground: a noir style fatalism, a police force as corrupt as the criminals they pursue, political intrigue and betrayals, however it doesn't matter. Originality is welcome but not necessary in anything, and here we see these familiar threads executed with such enthusiasm, backed by strong performances all around, that it hardly matters whether one has seen these things before. If there is one possibly original aspect, it is in it's ending which I won't spoil here. It's a small, but important moment, and much like his follow up "Le Samurai"(1967), widely open to interpretation.
Melville is known for his awesome visuals and mood, and this is no exception. His love of noir is apparent in the perfectly dark lighting, combined with an often minimal soundtrack that aids in creating a mood of dread in many scenes. This is actually a much more subdued effort for Melville in that regard, but it works here as the focus is much more on story and characters.
Not to be missed for fans of crime films.