OMG! That's hilarious, Moira! Did I imagine a sequence (a la The Women) where Mischa is actually portrayed as an afghan hound? Maybe an old Warner Bros. cartoon?
I was hoping there were some Jean Pierre Melville fans over here! I had to come over and find someone to talk to about the director. That description of La Silence de la Mer
doesn't do the film justice. This is the second Jean Pierre Melville film I've seen in a week (the first being Le Doulos
or The Hat, which is slang for 'police informant') and I think I've fallen in love with the director. While Le Doulos
was a stylish, edgy, fun exercise in revenge (which I LOVED), La Silence de la Mer was so emotional that I choked up at about the 3/4 mark and had a lump in my throat for the rest of the film. La Silence is a film I'll go back to, it's romantic, doomed, and has something rather political to say, though not in specifics.
I was expecting a film like your description of it, Moira, but what I got was MUCH deeper and more resonant. Because Melville refused to cast his lead character (Nazi) as a bad guy, I found the film devastating. Told from the point of view of an old French man and his daughter under Nazi occupation, we are shown ONE German, a military man, but also much more than that...a fragile human being bound by his ideas of nobility and duty, who is not enthralled with der Fuhrer's plans. He has a love of all things French and a hope for a future where France and Germany walk hand in hand in the sun, outside of war. Unfortunately, he is sadly mistaken and hasn't the force within to fight for his tiny view of peace between the two nations.
Melville's film is meticulous and detail oriented, helped along by a quiet first-person narrative. The attention to minutiae (hands trembling, the flicker of an eyelid) makes us first doubt the Nazi's words, but as the film literally ticks off its points (a clock in the background is used to GREAT effect), we find that the poor man is as much a victim of Hitler's hate as the French townspeople he is forced to rule over. Melville is ANGRY in a way only the french can be. I was expecting post war righteousness..... within his methodical framework, though, the anger of occupation is dissipated, then used to change our perspective of this captor and his charges. It also helps to set the stage for a tragic love story, without ever a word between the lovers.
Melville changes us, guides our anger to a more proper target - Hitler himself and those who had no problem destroying society's framework, artistic achievements, and most of all, entire populations of people. The film is really about a good man's shock and his inability to stand up against evil in the way in which it will do the most good. No matter what country, no matter what regime, some men are not cut out to fight against fascism and hate, and can only watch, keep silent, and die. This final message leaves you aching to jump up and strike a blow for those who can't deviate from their path of passivity. The film opened up many questions for me. Are the good and kind innately weaker than the evil and greedy or is it just that our ideas of propriety are weak? Is it nobler to sacrifice oneself or to live and fight? Should we pay for being easily deluded (and on the wrong side of history)?
Melville's style really grabs me. His mise-en-scene is bold and fascinating. I literally can't look away once his movies begin. Le Doulos
starts during the credits, with Serge Reggiani (be still my heart) simply walking in the twilight. For 2 minutes he walks as it gets dark, along the banks of a river, on a high wall, down an alley...all in stunning high contrast black and white. It's a great set up for the opening scene, when he finally bursts in on his jewel fence, a dear friend to him, with whom he chats for a few minutes, and then murders as the one light in the room splays all over the place. The rest of the film is the story if how he got to that point, who the police informant who ratted him out really was, and how suspicion and misunderstanding lead to dea.....oh. wait. That would be giving it all away!
Both films I watched are about evil, betrayal, self-delusion and sacrifice. I think what sets Melville apart from some of the other transitional directors of his time period is his aching empathy with his characters in the midst of gritty brutal backgrounds. I find that empathy refreshing in its time period of cold documentary style direction. It's the same reason I have liked Agnes Varda.
It seems to me that Melville is dealing with a single question - what happens when you suddenly realize that YOU are the agent of evil, rather than its victim? I have found myself rooting for those I thought I was going to hate in his films. I can't think of a better thing in the world than that.