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DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Le Deuxième Souffle (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Le Deuxième Souffle
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1966
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 144 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
Subtitles: English
MSRP: $ 39.95

Release Date: October 7, 2008
Review Date: October 4, 2008


The Film

4/5

Another in his tantalizing series of amazing gangster sagas, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Deuxième Souffle blends his criminals and cops into a disciplined, slow, and steady caper film that seems half as long as its extended running time. Concentrating on the eccentric sense of honor and brotherhood that binds crooks together and which serves as a kind of calling card among them in terms of respect and trust, Le Deuxième Souffle not only has a plot that grips ever tighter as its various maze of strands begins to intersect, it also features a group of colorful antiheroes that the audience roots for and a super cop whose dogged persistence keeps tension high as he closes in for the pinch.

Former public enemy number one Gustavo “Gu” Minda (Lino Ventura) escapes from prison and hides out while his loving sister Manouche (Christine Fabréga) and her bodyguard Alban (Michel Constantin) find a way to get him out of the country. While in hiding, another underworld friend Orloff (Pierre Zimmer) arranges for Gu to be the fourth man on a robbery job involving a billion francs’ worth of platinum, and with a 200 hundred million franc payout as his part of the job, Gu risks obvious exposure to take part in the daylight, roadside heist.

Melville and José Giovanni’s screenplay was based on Giovanni’s novel, and it breaks the lengthy film into three basic sections. We have seventy minutes of exposition where we get to know the main players in the drama and have the heist explained. The robbery itself takes about twenty minutes of the movie. The remaining fifty or so minutes deal with the aftermath of the crime as things begin to unravel ever so slowly and reputations begin to become even more important than the platinum or the money it was to generate.

Apart from the striking direction of the major moments in the movie: the jailbreak which opens the film, the robbery done in a scintillating series of shots from different angles against the dazzling backdrop of the Mediterranean, a secret meeting of robbery principals who think they have the upper hand in a house cased by them ahead of time, and, of course, the inevitable showdown where scores are settled. But Melville’s work also catches the eye in clever shots such as mirror images of characters in the background while a major character is also in the foreground, a gorgeous tracking shot as the convicts race through dense woods for a train that’s pulling away, beautifully handled long takes which show the actors in complete control of their performances, and astonishing shots as a motorcycle and a truck plummet massive distances toward destruction. His control and mastery of frame construction amazes, consistently seeming fresh and modern despite his use of old-fashioned wipes between scenes.

Lino Ventura is ideal casting as the aging gangster Gu, still mentally wily and a crack shot even though his body is heavy and less agile than he was in his prime. Crafty, sardonic Inspector Blot who’s usually a step behind the crooks but still in the game is played with precision by Paul Meurisse. The Ricci brothers who mastermind the heist give Raymond Pellegrin and Marcel Bozzufi two very different siblings to enact: alternately warm and wacky. Denis Manuel makes a wonderfully intense hothead Antoine, and both Michel Constantin and Pierre Zimmer as Alban and Orloff exude loyalty personified. It’s unusual for Melville to include in his gangster movies a female role of any real size or importance, but Christine Fabréga’s Manouche makes for a loving, devoted sister to Gu.


Video Quality

4/5

The 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented here in a very good anamorphic transfer. Though there is some early spotting and some milky black levels as the show gets underway, later the image gains in sharpness and features a striking grayscale that’s moody and most effective. Occasional dust specks also appear, but after the opening sequence, they are never obtrusive. The white subtitles are easy to read, but with much talk present, they go by quickly. The film has been divided into 33 chapters.

Audio Quality

3/5

The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track is a mostly solid effort which occasionally, however, displays a low level of hiss along with some poorly produced ADR that makes itself known on occasion. Still, for a film of this age, it’s an effective mono track.


Special Features

3.5/5

A entertaining conversation between film scholar Ginette Vincendeau and critic Geoff Andrew makes for an animated audio commentary. Discussing the director’s technique without resorting to describing what we’re watching on screen, the two film experts work wonderfully well together.

Director Bernard Tavernier discusses his work as a publicist on this film and his prickly working relationship with the director in an anamorphic interview recorded in 2008 which runs 11 ½ minutes.

Two archival interviews filmed in 1966 during production and after the release are available for viewing. The first, a newsreel type interview with director Melville and stars Ventura and Meurisse on the set of the film, runs 4 minutes. The second, a more private and in-depth encounter with Melville and Ventura separately, runs 25 ¾ minutes. Both interviews are in 4:3.

The film’s original theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs 2 ½ minutes.

An enclosed 15-page booklet contains some striking stills from the movie along with an appreciative essay on the film and Melville’s work ethic by film professor Adrian Danks.


In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)

A wonderfully engaging gangster saga by a master of the genre, Le Deuxième Souffle is a must for fans of the director or the genre. Criterion’s double dose of Melville drama this month (with the previously reviewed Le Doulos) would make for a great double feature. Le Deuxième Souffle comes highly recommended.



Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC
 

Richard--W

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Good review. I can't recommend this film highly enough. Or Le Doulos for that matter, released in tandem. Both DVD's are essential to anyone who appreciates true noir.

Criterion continues to do justice to this maestro. I've become a devoted pupil of Jean-Pierre Melville's work in the past year. I now own every Melville film that's been released on DVD (only one film hasn't). Nobody seems to have noticed, but last June, Lionsgate re-issued UN FLIC (1972) under it's American title DIRTY MONEY, replacing the out of print Anchor Bay disc. This was Melville's last film and one of his strongest and most hardboiled noirs. It features Alain Delon and Catherine Denueve in fine style, and in a surprising bit of casting, it also stars American actor Richard Crenna. Crenna eases himself so comfortably into the world of French noir he looks as if he belongs there. If you like Les Enfants Terribles, Le Doulos, Le Deuxième Souffle, Le Samourai, Army of Shadows, and Le Cercle Rouge, you'll love Dirty Money:

Amazon.com: Dirty Money (Un Flic): Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Frederick Deane, Timothy Patrick Cavanaugh, Charmagne Eckert, Jorge "Maromero" Paez, Dagmar Stansora, David Jean Thomas, Delaune Michel, Biff Yeager, Christian Faber, Michael Mayers,

 

Richard--W

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I forgot to mention Bob Le Flambeur (1956), the classic shaggy dog noir, also released by Criterion.

If you are multi-region enabled, you might want to check out two other films by Jean-Pierre Melville that aren't released in the USA. Le Silence de la mer was his first and in many ways his most startling film in 1949. Leon Morin, Pretre (1961) stars Jean-Paul Belmondo in a kind of emotional thriller about a woman who falls in love with a priest during the Nazi occupation. I bought them from U.K. amazon and recommend them highly:

Amazon.co.uk: Le Silence de la mer (Masters of Cinema) [1949]: Howard Vernon, Jean-Marie Robain, Nicole Stephane, Jean-Pierre Melville: DVD

Amazon.co.uk: Leon Morin, Pretre [1961]: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Emmanuelle Riva, Irene Tunc, Nicole Mirel, Gisele Grimm, Marco Behar, Monique Bertho, Jean-Pierre Melville: DVD
 

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