Le deuxième souffle (1966)

Jean-Pierre Melville takes his favourite elements from the era of the film noir crime films, and treats them to some realism. 

The mood is always empty, and there is very little in the way of fun. 

There are some pretty, but pretty vacant dancing girls, who are only smiling because it is their job to smile, and their repeated turns and even their rehearsal, early in the picture, are as fun as it gets.

This is Le deuxième souffle (1966), a wonderful, omenous, wide ranging and all-enveloping French film noir and gangster flick.

Because it's French film noir, there is always going to be a slight difference. Some things are taken more seriously, like the back stories of the hoods, molls, cops and gangsters.

At the samw time, some scenes make less sense than we might like them to, but we are always midway through everything, and in real life, there is no scene setting. The sadness is somewhat hidden beneath the piped smooth vibraphone-based jazz that plays in the bars and clubs, and even in some of the featured houses.

This beautiful tense, funny, hard French film noir opens suddenly showing into the finale of an escape from prison. One man dies during the escape, but the other two make it out, and we follow them on an atmospheric run through the forest, in a minimal opening credits sequence with very little music.

From there Le deuxième souffle is one long and epic criminal ramble.

One of the escapees from this opening scene is the hero of Le deuxième souffle, a certain Gustave Minda who is regularly called Gu, a time served criminal who has been behind bars for a train robbery gone wrong.

Gu arrives back in his old stomping grounds, and so continues this excellent film noir, with its many set piece scenes, spread out with plenty time to spare over two and a half hours.

First he rescues his sister and loyal friend from a pair of thugs (pictured above!) This is a fairly protracted set of scenes, with some excellent creeping, fighting and threatening behaviour.  The conflict is fascinating, and ends with the cold blooded murder  of the two hoods.

Gangland in Le deuxième souffle (1966)

This killing brings more heat on Gu, specifically from a policeman called Blot, a wise-cracking and cunning inspector. 

Although several plot points run and intersect, including a battle over the cigarette business and the creatyion of a completely new heist, following along is a pleasure because of the pacing, as Melville brings a certain sense of realism. 

Christmas / French Film Noir / Le Deuxième Souffle (1966)

It's the coldness of the murder, and the coldness of the cold, empty lives of the criminals that somehow offer this realism. None of the glamour of American style film noir is found here and evertything is instead placed rather coldly and unattractively in something approximating its true and grim form.

This is what gives Le deuxième souffle its French film noir chops ― the depressing flavour. There is no glamour nor even excitement in criminaly and policing. Both are like psychological vices, tired and unforgiving passages through life. 

Some of it seems to anticipate the crime films of the 1970s which in some cases made a virtue of tough characters alone in anonymous urban environments, loners, and it somehow manages to express better than any film, the effect of criminal networks, the way that associations are made and acted upon in these circles.

It’s one of the reasons Le deuxième souffle is so relatively long, because it represents the authenticity of these relationships. And perhaps it was truly tedious organising heists on a procedural and secure fashion in 1966. 

There is even a feeling that Quentin Tarantino might have borrowed the structure and style that underpins this film. It's long, and involved, and sets several stories together at various angles, and most of all likes to take its time, while simultaneously taking the lives of gangsters quite seriously.

Well, kind of seriously:

The last third of the film becomes a huge exercise in proving you are not a narc, for Gu. As well as the joys of the hesit and its preparation, there is some stunning photography.

A bit of everything then: fear, murder, and the seedy urban backdrops ... rising to the dramatic and well-filmed heist scenes, which are a joy to behold, and gloriously shot on a deserted mountain side in the south of France:



The Second Breath at Wikipedia

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