35. Jean-Pierre Melville
LE SAMOURAI, ARMY OF SHADOWS, LE CERCLE ROUGE, BOB LE FLAMBEUR
With something more than ordinary fondness for the iconic American anti-hero, Jean-Pierre Melville’s surname substitution (his given name, though, was Grumbach) is a powerful indication of the measure its influence on his life and career. Unlike many prominent European directors from the same era, his characters’ existential dilemmas were bound in and explored through the conventions of the crime genre. His characters are assassins and revolutionaries, escapees and thieves, including the icon of modern stoicism in actor Alain Delon in Le Samourai. There is a patience to his films. He keenly observes the process of his characters’ trades, most famously in an extensive, nearly silent jewel heist in Le Circle Rouge. But his films never feel slow or stagnant. They are deliberate and expansive and intricate and suspenseful. Shortley before a heart attack killed him at the age of 55, he had made three masterpieces in a row, the aforementioned Le Samourai and Le Circle Rouge, and the wartime spy thriller Army of Shadows. And while he can sometimes be viewed solely as a function of his wide-ranging influence on modern directors, his own films hold riches unto themselves.
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