Saturday, September 03, 2011
#191: Le Doulos
Over the years, sifting through DVD libraries, online posters and sitting through opening credits of movies, I have come to believe that the most reassuring words that exist in cinema are 'Un Film de Jean-Pierre Melville' or its English equivalent- A film by Jean-Pierre Melville. Greater reviewers before me, much more accomplished film students and more importantly, acclaimed auteurs while documenting their choices of their favorite directors of all-time, somehow don't seem to share my sentiment. The Independent, in this regard did an interesting study on a list of directors and their favorite films. The article makes for a most fascinating reading. What stuns me about that list though is that just one of Melville's movie makes it to the list. Jim Jarmusch (God bless him) included Bob Le Flambeur in a compilation that had 18 directors mentioning their top ten lists. I don't know the reason for this anomaly but it irks me to know that no one else included Melville in their list. If I haven't clarified it enough, for the record, Melville would be in my top 3 list of the best directors of all-time even in my sleep. Even when I am hungover and hence here's an attempt to spread the word about one of the many classics from Melville's repertoire- Le Doulos.
Most people would point to Le Samourai or Bob Le Flambeur as his greatest achievement. The former perhaps rightly so but there are such gems that Melville has written and/or directed that each succeeded in leaving an indelible mark on my memory. Le Doulos is one such mark. As the opening frame of the movie tells us Doulos is slang for an informer in French, someone who works with criminals but in reality sides with the police on the sly by giving them information.
Jean-Paul Belmondo, as Silien is the police informer in Le Doulos and Serge Reggiani as small-time crook Maurice ends up on the wrong end of the law due to Silien's 'fingering'. Melville takes us on a rollercoaster journey of a hide-and-seek oneupmanship between these two redoubtable characters. Belmondo is mysterious, refined and characteristically stylish as Silien who is suspected as an informer by his enemies yet trusted blindly by his friends. One of his close friends happens to be Maurice, who has just been recently released from prison and is planning yet another house robbery. What Melville establishes wonderfully in Le Doulos without any sense of melodrama is the rapport between these key characters. He puts you on the edge with that singular relationship that churns in the movie with every passing minute. You're provided with hints of how their friendship might evolve but you work out yourself what its outcome might be. Melville's screenplay, adapted from a Pierre Lasou novel, immerses you with Maurice and Silien and some excellent bit-part players that include a police commissioner, Maurice's girlfriend and Jean, a close friend of both Silien and Maurice.
Melville was a great believer in the power of the cinematic frame and that is something that came across strongly in Le Samourai. Le Doulos is no different. The minimalistic shot-taking has a tremendous impact on those moments that are meant to shock you. This is a movie that I keep going back to from time to time to understand the endless possibilities of story telling, of well-defined characters and of the power of cinema to make you numb. I can only hope that someday, the legend of Le Doulos becomes awe-inspiring enough to be included in far many more lists of the greatest movies ever made.
It is such a pity it isn't already.