Le Doulos

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Gary Duncan

Read Gary Duncan's film review of Le Doulos
Le Doulos

Le Doulos director Jean-Pierre Melville is conspicuous by his absence in these extras, but we do get the next best thing in the shape of his apprentice Volker Schlöndorff and the respected French film critic Ginette Vincendeau.

Schlöndorff sheds light on Melville's unorthodox writing technique. Many of his films were based on novels and the technique involved Schlöndorff being sent out to buy as many copies of the books as he could find and Melville then taking a large pair of scissors and cutting and pasting them into a workable framework.

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Sometimes, however, this gung-ho approach would get him into trouble. His first film, Le Silence De La Mer, was based on a novel, but he filmed it without the author's permission and the men-in-suits in the French film industry promptly fined him.

It was an inauspicious start, but then, according to Vincendeau, Melville was never one to bother with the niceties of convention. He was difficult, she says, an iconoclast and authoritarian, driven by his "amour fou", his consuming passion for film.

Much of this came from his love of all things American. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of American cinema and was heavily influenced by directors like William Wyler and Robert Wise. "He knew every American film by heart, every line, every shot, every set up," says Schlöndorff. He also took inspiration from American writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville - even changing his name (he was born Grumbach) as a mark of respect to the man who gave us Moby Dick.

Le Doulos, says Schlöndorff, was shot in Paris, "but every location had to look as if it was Manhattan." This is what Schlöndorff calls Melville's "false universe" - a stylish noir world inspired by the classic American gangster films of the Forties and Fifties, but with a French twist.

Vincendeau discusses Melville's other main theme - the Second World War and the German occupation of France - and how this inspired films such as L'Armée Des Ombres.

She's frighteningly knowledgeable, but sometimes over-eggs the commentary with her earnest analysis. Jean-Paul Belmondo making a phone call is, apparently, a "good example of cultural and stylistic hybridity." Er, no, it's Jean-Paul Belmondo making a phone call. Elsewhere, she says, Melville "destabilises the spectator's identification" and offers a "a subtle delineation of the character's otherness". It all sounds very clever, and I'm sure she knows what she's talking about, but I'd rather just watch the film.

Reviewed on: 27 Jul 2004
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Le Doulos packshot
Stylish French noir thriller, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.
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Product Code: BFIVD594

Region: 2

Ratio: 1:66:1 (16 x 9 anamorphic)

Sound: Dolby Digital

Extras: Audio commentary over selected scenes and introduction by French cinema expert Ginette Vincendeau; interview with assistant director Volker Schlöndorff; original trailer and director’s biography

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