I like how Jean-Pierre Melville depicts the French urban landscape in his films, especially in Le Doulos as its characters walk under bridges, sandy dunes and landfills or patchy parks. The homes, within crowded neighborhoods or otherwise, are safe houses with stolen jewelry, money and weapons.
As if these places are where characters burrow or hide or run but never strolled on or enjoyed. And pardon the cliché but it’s the France that the tourists don’t see, a France that surprisingly seems more American, dusty and dirty.
Maurice Fuguel (Serge Reggiani), just coming out of prison, involves himself in another murder/robbery/chase scene. Then he goes to his apartment where his girlfriend Therese (Monique Hennessy) is staying.
When he opens a door, a shadow appears, cool in his uniform trench coat, turning out to be his best friend Silien visits and enters the movie. Silien at first seems like a secondary character until we quickly realize the actor playing him – Jean-Paul Belmondo – and at this point we’re anticipating more excitement.
Which he brings ten minutes later as he returns to the apartment, finding Therese alone. It’s disturbing to watch him brutalize her, the delivery of his threats showing either a great, risky performance or a great, risky moment within an otherwise decent performance. What feels more uncomfortable is how the movie tries to convince us that the beating is for the greater good – he forces her to give information that might save his Maurice and his friends from a heist that will definitely go bad.
The movie introduces another female character, Silien’s ex-girlfriend Fabiene (Fabienne Dali), a woman with an equally terrible past whom he’s attempting to rescue. Melville tries to show the opposites between these female characters but they are still within a limited spectrum – passive and victimized.
Silien hijacks the movie with the best intentions. Even if he’s a police informant his loyalty is with the underworld, trying to correct the wrongs. The film’s last scenes are its weakest as he explains why some of his friends had to experience arrest or murder.
Patching things up, eventually the best friends plan to move to an orchard outside the city. Silien even tries to being Fabienne along. But then the enmity between friends produces unexpected problems, the dream of finishing with their criminal life becoming a foggy dream.
- Reblog: NEW WAVE WEEK! Day 5: Jean-Pierre Melville (magnoliaforever.wordpress.com)