149 minutes

Few film directors have become so entwined with a genre as French hardboiled auteur Jean-Pierre Melville, whose short directing career saw him work with the legendary Jean Cocteau and Paul Vercors before entering a breathtaking cycle of progressively more austere and stylized crime thrillers that have become lodestars of the French crime drama known as polar. Adapted from a novel by ex-convict José Giovanni, Le Deuxième souffle is a perfect example of Mr. Melville's masterful take on the genre: at heart a tale of revenge among Marseille criminals involving an escaped convict's last heist before leaving the country, it is deftly transformed by the director into a zen ode to honour among thieves that shares the post-war sense of disillusion that permeated the Hollywood films noirs. The heist itself, superbly assembled by Mr. Melville, is a mere MacGuffin - the film hinges on something as intangible as the reputation of old-fashioned hoodlum Gu Minda (Lino Ventura), caught in a maelstrom of events in a world where honour and friendship are no longer meaningful concept.

     The last of the director's films to be shot in claustrophobic black-and-white, often set under steel grey skies or stark night scenes, Le Deuxième Souffle respects on the surface all the genre conventions while slowly dilating and distorting them into an abstract, fatalistic game of chess moves whose result seems to be preordained by fate. Its precisely laid out cat-and-mouse chase between Gu and the Machiavellian detective Blot (a mesmerising Paul Meurisse) anticipates the geometric perfection of the stone-cold classic Le Samouraï, which Mr. Melville would direct the following year, and laid the foundations for the director's valedictory lap of final crime films, all completed before his untimely death at 56 in 1973: Le Samouraï (1967), L'Armée des ombres (1969), Le Cercle rouge (1970) and Un Flic (1972).

Starring Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Raymond Pellegrin, Christine Fabréga; with Marcel Bozzuffi, Paul Frankeur, Denis Manuel, Jean Négroni, Michel Constantin, Pierre Zimmer, Pierre Grasset.
     Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville; screenplay by Mr. Melville and José Giovanni, based on the novel by Mr. Giovanni, Le Deuxième souffle; music by Bernard Gérard; director of photography (b&w), Marcel Combes; art director, Jean-Jacques Fabre; wardrobe, Michel Tellin; film editors, Monique Bonnot, Michèle Bohem.
     A Charles Lumbroso/André Labay presentation/production. (Original French distributor, Prodis.)
     Screened: Cinemateca Portuguesa - Félix Ribeiro Theatre (Lisbon), October 1st 2011. 


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