Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville

French film director and screenwriter.
Date of Birth: 20.10.1917
Country: France

Biography of Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Grumbach, known as Jean-Pierre Melville, was a French film director and screenwriter. He was born on October 20, 1917, in Paris. From a young age, Melville was a cinema fanatic, constantly attending movie theaters and attempting to make amateur films. However, his dreams of entering the professional film industry were interrupted by World War II, as he served first in the British Army and then in the ranks of the French Liberation forces.

Even after the war, Melville struggled to break into major studios, leading him to establish his own production company, "Société Melville Production," in 1945. He took on various roles within the company, ranging from producer to editor. This experience of low-budget filmmaking is believed to have foreshadowed the discoveries of the French New Wave. Melville also played a significant role in the movement as its precursor. He was a devoted fan of American cinema, particularly crime and war genres, and sought to adapt them to the French reality while infusing them with a European spirit heavily influenced by existentialist philosophy, which emerged in France in the post-war years.

Melville's appearance in Jean-Luc Godard's film "Breathless" (A Bout De Souffle, 1959) as a popular American writer arrogantly giving an interview to a young female journalist can be seen as a typical Godardian joke, an ironic fictional quote. However, this seemingly coincidental casting also carries a certain justice and recognition for Melville as a pioneer and teacher. Similar to how Godard and other New Wave directors have become idols for contemporary American filmmakers, Melville has become a true cult figure for filmmakers from the East and the West, ranging from John Woo and Takeshi Kitano to Bryan Singer and Gary Fleder.

The phenomenon of Melville cannot be confined within the strict framework of his relatively short biography or a simple list of the 13 1/2 films he created in 27 years, approximately one film every two years, a classic pace of creativity. In his films, one can easily find examples of well-constructed framing, deliberate rhythm, unique use of music and natural sounds, and silent actions that captivate with their correlation to real time, both on and off the screen. Films such as "Le Samourai" (1967) and "Le Cercle Rouge" (1970) are existential "polar" films, French adaptations of American gangster movies.

The true artist often surpasses their own creations, and the mystery of their uniqueness cannot be fully deciphered even during a reevaluation of their entire body of work. Melville's supposedly unusual films, such as "Vingt Quatre Heures De La Vie D'un Clown" (1946, short film), "Les Enfants Terribles" (1949), "Quand Tu Lira Cette Lettre" (1952), and "Leon Morin·pretre" (1961), can be considered as dramas or melodramas. The intermediate phase of Melville's career includes war stories such as "Le Silence De La Mer" (1947) and "L'armee Des Ombres" (1969), based on Joseph Kessel's novel. The true Melville, however, can be found in his two aforementioned crime films, as well as in "Bob Le Flambeur" (1955), "Deux Hommes dans Manhattan" (1958), "Le Doulos" (1961), "L'Aine Des Ferchaux" (1962), "Le Deuxieme Souffle" (1966), and "Un Flic" (1972).

Any attempt to categorize Melville's films is relative. "Le Samourai" can be seen as a philosophical transcendent drama, "Le Cercle Rouge" can be described as "72 hours in the lives of three burglars," and "L'armee Des Ombres" can be viewed as a fictional thriller about ordinary people beyond the law. Perhaps, someone will make the discovery that movies like François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" and Agnès Varda's "Cleo from 5 to 7" would not exist without Melville's early experiments, namely "Les Enfants Terribles" and "Vingt Quatre Heures De La Vie D'un Clown."