Melville, Jean-Pierre


Melville, Jean-Pierre
(1917-1973)
   Director, producer, and screenwriter. Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach in Paris in 1917, Jean-Pierre Melville would only make thirteen films in his career. Nonetheless, like Robert Bresson and Max Ophuls (who were both his contemporaries) his influence on French cinema and cinema in general is disproportionate to his output. He was, without overstating the facts, a legend and he was so in his own time. He was a pivotal influence on the filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague or New Wave, and he was central in changing the direction of French cinema in the postwar era and particularly the 1960s.
   Melville had no formal training in cinema. Like the early pioneers, he was self-taught. There is even a famous story about him beginning to make films on a Pathé home movie camera when he was a very small child. He was also driven by a passion for the cinema itself. He was an avid lover of Hollywood film, particularly film noir and the Western, and the influence of Hollywood is evident in his own films. He came to professional filmmaking after World War II. He first served in the French forces, then in the English forces, having fled the German invasion. He then served as an undercover agent in the Resistance forces. Melville was his covert name as a Resistance agent. He chose the name himself as an expression of admiration for the American author. It was the name he would use in cinema.
   When Melville began making films just after the war, he was denied membership in the French filmmaking union. Typical of the way he would conduct himself throughout his career, he set up on his own, at his own "studio" and created his own production company in order to produce his own films. His first film was a short titled 24 heures dans la vie d'un clown (1946), and it was followed by the feature-length Le Silence de la mer (1947). This film, which many consider exceptional for its exploration of French collaboration with Nazi Germany, was made during that brief period after the war that preceded the national silence on the subject. It was seen and admired by Jean Cocteau, who invited Melville to direct the film adaptation of Les Enfants terribles (1950). Melville followed his work with Cocteau by directing the film Quand tu liras cette lettre (1953), the story of a young woman torn between taking religious vows and taking care of her family. These early films tend to be forgotten in many analyses of Melville because they are not the gangster films for which he is typically remembered.
   The first of the better-known Melville films is Bob le flambeur (1955). The film tells the story of a retired gangster, plagued by gambling debts, who agrees to hold up a casino. It introduced Melville's own blend of noir and moral tale, dispassionately recorded through a very neutral and distant camera. The film was followed by Deux hommes de Manhattan (1958), L'Aîné des Ferchaux (1962), Le Doulos (1962), Landru (1962), Le Deuxième souffle (1966), Le Samouraï (1967), which won the Prix Louis-Delluc, Le Cercle rouge (1970), and Un Flic (1972), all of which are in the same vein.
   In the middle of these, however, Melville would return to the war. Léon Morin, Prêtre (1961), often considered a pivotal film in Melville's career, and L'Armée des ombres (1969) are both wartime dramas that deviate from Melville's general pattern of using gangster-type plots as vehicles. However, the films are similar in tone and in theme to many of Melville's other films. This very fact suggests that what is at the heart of Melville's standing as an auteur is less the form of his films than both his filmmaking style and the philosophical substance of his films.
   It is difficult to classify Melville's work with respect to movement or period. His films may have influenced the Nouvelle Vague, but he preceded it and he always remained deliberately aloof from it. He was also deliberately and consciously out of step with most of the other filmmakers of the day. He is, rather, one of a handful of fiercely independent filmmakers such as Ophuls, Bresson, and Jacques Becker, all of whom were making films in the 1950s and 1960s, and all of whom helped move French cinema away from the formulaic comedies and melodramas the major studios were producing and more toward an independent, author-centered cinema in the spirit of the cinema of the 1930s.
   Historical Dictionary of French Cinema by Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Melville, Jean-Pierre — (1917 1973)    Director, producer, and screenwriter. Born Jean Pierre Grumbach in Paris in 1917, Jean Pierre Melville would only make thirteen films in his career. Nonetheless, like Robert Bresson and Max Ophuls (who were both his contemporaries) …   Historical Dictionary of French Cinema

  • Melville, Jean-Pierre — ▪ French director pseudonym  of Jean pierre Grumbach   born Oct. 20, 1917, Paris died Aug. 2, 1973, Paris  French motion picture director whose early films strongly influenced the directors of the New Wave, the innovative French film movement of… …   Universalium

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  • Jean-pierre melville — Nom de naissance Jean Pierre Grumbach Naissance 20 octobre 1917 Paris, France Nationalité(s)  Française …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Jean-Pierre Grumbach — Jean Pierre Melville Jean Pierre Melville Nom de naissance Jean Pierre Grumbach Naissance 20 octobre 1917 Paris, France Nationalité(s)  Française …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Jean-Pierre (prenom) — Jean Pierre Le prénom Jean Pierre, combinant les deux prénoms très courants d origine biblique Jean et Pierre, a connu en France une exceptionnelle et brève popularité au début du baby boom : à la fin des années 1940 et pendant les années… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Jean-Pierre Melville — Infobox actor bgcolour = silver name = Jean Pierre Melville caption = birthname = Jean Pierre Grumbach birthdate = birth date|1917|10|20 location = Paris, France deathdate = death date and age |1973|8|2|1917|10|20 deathplace = Paris, France… …   Wikipedia

  • Jean-Pierre — Le prénom Jean Pierre, combinant les deux prénoms très courants d origine biblique, Jean et Pierre, a connu en France une exceptionnelle et brève popularité au début du baby boom : à la fin des années 1940 et pendant les années 1950. De 1944 …   Wikipédia en Français


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