Here’s some strange irony for you. This will be my 200th film I’ve reviewed for this blog (out of 500 total posts/reviews of other media). It’s a proto-French New Wave film with elements of both film noir and classic heist films. Yet, despite this, I have still yet to watch a proper French New Wave film on here. The closest I came to this was Lacombe, Lucien by director Louis Malle but he was more inspired  by the French New Wave rather than an actual progenitor of the form like Jean-Luc Godard or Francois Truffaut. 1956’s Bob Le Flambeur (translates to “Bob the Gambler”) by director Jean Pierre Melville is considered one of the preludes to the French New Wave for some of its revolutionary film techniques (which I’ll get to later) and is an endlessly entertaining and ambitious take on the classic gangster movie that subverts the audience’s expectations at every point with one of the best film endings that I’ve seen in recent memory. It wouldn’t seem unfair to say that films like Heat or the Ocean’s Eleven franchise wouldn’t have been able to exist had it not been for the artistic re-imagining of the heist film in Melville’s well-deserved classic.

Bob Montagne (Roger Duchesne) is a gambling addict with more class in his cuff-links than most film stars have in their whole body. Even when he’s down on his luck (which is all of the time), he still has a nearly palatial hotel room and enough money to spread around to his friends or even offer food and shelter to a down on her luck working girl, the breathtaking Anne (Isabelle Corey). A professional thief in his past, Bob has retired from his life of crime to simply gamble his days away, but when he loses his entire bankroll in one day (on tilt after Anne leaves him for another of his proteges, the young Paolo [Daniel Cauchy]), he has to come up with money quick. When he hears about 800 million francs sitting in a safe in the Deauville casino, the opportunity to strike it rich is too much to turn down. As his crew’s loose lips and greed threaten to tear the entire operation apart, Bob is forced to make the biggest gamble of his career in order to make one last score.

Easily the most remarkable aspect of this film is Jean Pierre Melville’s love of the iconic film noir greats. With obvious allusions to nearly every Bogart film ever made as well as the sheer visual imagery of the smoke-filled room, the layers and layers of shadows, the well-dressed immaculately masculine men, or the rain-soaked streets, this film exudes the vibes of classic American cinema but with a winking self-confidence and playfulness that American movies are too serious to ever incorporate. The film distinguishes itself in terms of cinematography from its beloved predecessors by incorporating several innovations of its own that would go on to revolutionize French cinema forever. Melville uses a hand-held camera (essentially unheard of at the time) and regularly generates unconventional and interesting camera angles that were just light years ahead of their time. That is classic French New Wave before it began and when you throw in the fact that Melville’s editing and cuts were as frenetic and seemingly random (though not really random) as a Godard picture, you can’t begin to overstate how influential his camerawork would be.

I watched this movie earlier and took an unplanned break between putting up this review so I’m going to draw things to a close (also because I have to write a review for the last disc of Season 5 of Doctor Who plus make my best of films 151-200 list since this was movie 200). Needless to say though, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It was an ode to film noir while simultaneously allowing itself to be a little cooler and classier than American film noir ever was. Film noir is one of my favorite genres, and there was always something about the smoky stylized atmosphere of movies like Maltese Falcon and Casablanca that made me fall in love with the movies. The film also stands out by being a heist film in name only because it is simultaneously so much more and so much less stripping the genre down to its bare essential and then replacing the parts with something fresh and exciting. For fans of French cinema, film noir, and gangster movies, Bob Le Flambeur is an easy sell.

Final Score: A-

Advertisements