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Revolutionary crime-noir, from the director of Le Samourai.,
This review is from: Bob Le Flambeur [DVD] (DVD)
Bob Le Flambeur opens with a glimmering shot of early morning Paris, where we find the rugged, nonchalant hood Bob Montagne, sauntering through the neon lit streets, looking every bit the icon of cinema that he is. To Bob, everything in life is a gamble, an uncertainty, a ten-to-one shot. He inhabits a world of games and chances... as the gravel voice narration points out, "the city can be both heaven and hell, as long as you know how to play it". He is, as the title suggests, a man who lives and loves gambling. A one-time crook now taking it easy, we find him huddled in a smoky apartment - the walls painted black and white like a chessboard - hard at work towards yet another pay off. When he isn't 'working', Bob lives the simple life, hanging out in bars with old pals or relaxing in his penthouse apartment. His only real companion is Paolo, a young tearaway who idolises and emulates Bob's look and lifestyle. The child of a former friend, Bob becomes the surrogate father figure to Paolo, looking out for him and making sure he isn't consumed by the lure of the mean streets.
Bob le Flambeur was one of Melville's earliest entries into the gangster cycle that would later give birth to his better-known film, Le Samourai. Like that film, Flambeur is a technically assured and understated journey into the underworld, employing a raw cinematic intensity, knowing irony and loose plot, which can probably be seen as an influence on contemporary filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Ringo Lam, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, David Mamet and Wong Kar-Wai. It can also be seen as something of a revolutionary work, with Melville's bold use of real locations, available light and handheld cameras offering an obvious precursor to the style of the later nouvelle vague, and, to great filmmakers like Godard, Chabrol and Truffaut. Like those directors, Melville has a strong understanding of genre conventions and the post-war Gangster ethos, and thus, crafts a film that is both European in style and sensibility, but at the same time, nods to the classic gangster movies of 30's and 40's Hollywood... giving us a cool and slick film, that still has enough edge and grit to make the characters seem like real people.
The plot unfolds at a natural pace, slowly at first, but gradually building momentum once all the major players have been introduced, with Melville creating something of a confrontational three-way struggle between Bob, Paolo and Isabelle Corey's deceptive femme-fetal. As the film progresses, we delve deeper into both the plot and the back story, finding Bob seriously out of pocket after a spot of bad luck at the casino... and, with only one way to go to get the cash back, he decides to pull off the ultimate gamble... by which, allow himself to be pulled back down into the criminal underworld that he'd almost escaped. From this point on the film becomes concerned with the intricacies of crime, the impact of friendship and the fixation and fundamental need to succeed, or else, forfeit the next ten to twenty years of your life... and for the aging Bob, this is not an option. At this point, loyalties are tested and precision filmmaking is pushed to the limits as the plot continues headlong towards its climax. The story takes all manner of twists and turns along the way, with Melville keeping the story rooted in the details of his characters and the intricacy of the crime it's self, so that by the end the film the whole thing has seemingly worked towards chance and blind luck... proving to some extent Melville's grand metaphor that life is the ultimate gamble.
Melville's film is one of the classic post-war noir films, if not one of the most important French films ever made... an evocative depiction of glistening black and white France, replete with shady gangsters, crooked cops, gambling dens, back street cafés and the ultimate heist, made all the more potent by the astounding performance of Roger Duchesne as the laconic and iconic Bob, and with great support from Daniel Cauchy as Paulo, Isabelle Corey as the wide-eyed Anne and Guy Decomble as Inspector Ledru.