Bob le flambeur (1956)

Bob le flambeur (1956)
Bob le flambeur (1956)
For the lover of film noir, and the dedicatee of American cinema, there is Jean-Pierre Melville's 1956 movie Bob le flambeur.

Mai oui, Bob le flambeur is a French film, but in many ways it could barely be more American.

It was made by director Jean-Pierre Melville who was obsesed with all things American, and who loved the gangster films of the 1930s, 40s and 50s so much, that he made many of his own.

In Bob Le Flambeur, we find is the first great hommage to noir, for Bob Le Flambeur is an outsider's view of American cinema, an attempt to make an American style film on foreign soil.  The story features many film noir elements — it is set in the criminal underworld of a big city, and features a loner who at various times works on both sides of the law, even though he is essntrially a crook. The urban settings and the odd camera angles will alos be familiar to viewers of classic film noir, as will be one of the main themes — a man undone because of a woman.

Bob le flambeur then has bags of film noir cred to commend it, and achieves its imitation of the American movies to perfection, and with plenty of French to spare.

For those interested in the wider story of twentieth century cinema, Bob le Flambeur is sometimes presented as the first film of the French New Wave.  This is laregly because of technique, but of course, the new waver riffed greatly on the themes images and styles of film noir.

However, in Bob le Flambeur, Jean-Piere Melville made a virtue of hand-held camera work, which was extremely unusual for its time, as was the jump-cutting.  Jump cutting, in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly, is something that is still odd today as it only serves to alert the viewer to the presence of the camera. But in 1956 it must have seemed mighty strange indeed.

In Bob Le Flambeur, there is also a strange but beautiful use of music — odd phrases are included, soimetimes jazzy, sometimes classical, sometimes flimic and sometimes more baroque.  Whatever they are, the music pops in and out of Bob Le Flambeur with no seeming logic, although it all works, and adds to the entertainment.

In every resepct Bob Le Flambeur conforms to the classic characteristics of film noir — motif, visual style, mood, characterisation, paranoia and the use of anti-heroes.

Melville had worked for the French resistance during World War Two and the struggle involved alliances not only with communists and left and right wing liberals - but with the criminal underworld, who played a largely unsung but important part in fighting the occupying Nazis.

During this time, Melvilee made contacts that were useful when he came to make crime thrillers.  The safecracker in Bob Le Flambeur, for example, was played by Rene Salgue, who was according to many, a real gangster.

Although subtitled copies of Bob Le Flambeur may be hard to come by, I have watched it in the original French a couple of times now, and it still works as an exciting viewing experience, simply because it's all about the sounds, settings and characters.

Bob le flambeur at Wikipedia

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