Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

criterion Archive

Thursday

14

May 2020

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Classic Film: Un Flic

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Jean-Pierre Melville’s final film is a tough nut to crack. There are parts of Un Flic that feel oddly undeveloped, the product of a director less concerned with plot than the broader themes the narrative spends its time exploring. For a master of the medium, sometimes that’s okay.

The narrative follows a robbery and its aftermath. Simon (Richard Crenna) leads the gang in their efforts to carry out of their thievery while Detective Coleman (Alain Delon) works the case. At the center of their feud is Cathy (Catherine Deneuve), Simon’s mistress who flirts with Coleman. The story and character relationships often exist on two different planes, simultaneously distant and intimate.

The film’s great triumph is a lengthy heist sequence in the second half, where Simon boards a train via helicopter to rob a rival gang of their heroin. Melville pulls off a fantastic technical feat for a film made in 1972, using minimal dialogue while maintaining an intense level of suspense. For a director making his last feature, Un Flic would be worth a watch just for the craftsmanship.

While the heist sequence is the best part of the film, it does come at a broader cost to the narrative. Stealing heroin from a rival gang has practically nothing to do with Un Flic’s broader story. Taking a twenty-minute detour out of a hundred-minute runtime does hinder the character development quite a bit.

Melville creates a rather interesting dynamic where the film operates largely without a protagonist. Coleman appears too infrequently to fit the bill, a gruff man with practically no personality beyond Delon’s irresistible charm. Simon is sort of like an anti-hero, except Melville doesn’t really provide a reason to root for him.

Some of this is rational is explained through the film’s tagline, “The only feelings mankind has ever inspired in policemen are those of indifference and derision.” Coleman isn’t in pursuit of justice, a man who acts oddly cruel to a transgender woman for no apparent reason. He’s stoic without the obvious desire for justice that drives many detectives in film.

Melville concerns himself with very complex themes in Un Flic while keeping the narrative mostly at the surface. It’s not a particularly deep film, though the kind that’s bound to keep you thinking long after the credits roll. It is not Melville’s best work.

Narratives are tricky beast. There’s only so much time for a director to explore contemplative themes once considerations to story and character are given. Melville skimps on those in Un Flic in favor of headier ambitions. He doesn’t always succeed, but the film is worth watching if only to see a master of the craft at work with his thoughts.

 

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Wednesday

29

April 2020

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Classic Film: So Dark the Night

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Nobody likes to be told they’re too old for anything, let alone love. Finality has a way of sucking all the hope out of a soul, leaving little but the regrets of missed opportunities. Humanity needs something to live for.

So Dark the Night explores the mindset of Henri Cassin (Steven Geray), an aging Parisian detective on holiday in the countryside, where a young girl Nanette (Micheline Cheirel) becomes infatuated with his talents and sense of worldliness. The sudden death of Nanette and her boyfriend/betrothed wreaks havoc on the small town. Henri’s efforts to uncover the killer lead to shocking discoveries that bring about many questions as to the nature of human consciousness.

Director Joseph H. Lewis does a remarkable job crafting each scene, often relying on uncomfortable camera angles. Many shots are partially obstructed by various points off the inn, creating a sense of claustrophobia as Henri struggles to search for the truth. The audience is frequently made to feel like a fly on the wall from room to room, listening in on intimate conversations.

Geray carries the narrative with his performance as the awkward protagonist. Henri is a strange man, a gentleman with a pleasant demeanor who leaves you feeling more uncomfortable in each passing scene. He’s a hard figure to root for, without leaving any obvious reason why.

So Dark the Night is a brisk noir gem that meticulously builds suspense over the course of its short runtime. There are no subplots. Lewis weaves character development in on the fly, always with his eye on the mystery.

The payoff has grand ambitions in its depiction of mental health, perhaps a bit lofty for 1946. Whether its diagnoses are fair or not, the film presents plenty for its audience to chew on long after the credits have rolled. So Dark the Night is bound to make many uncomfortable, but fans of noir will find plenty to enjoy.

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