Criterion Prediction #115: Un Flic, by Alexander Miller
Title: Un Flic (A Cop)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Richard Crenna, Paul Croucher, Riccardo Cucciolla
Synopsis: Police commissioner Edouard (Delon) is on the trail of a ruthless bank robber and drug trafficker. Meanwhile, he begins an affair with Catherine (Deneuve) whose boyfriend, Simon is a nightclub owner and the very criminal Edouard is pursuing.
Critique: While Jean Luc Godard said all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, Melville’s on the opposite side on the spectrum; all he needs is five hard-looking dudes in a car sporting trench coats, fedora hats, and the most stoic of faces.
That’s how Un Flic begins and it’s that instant sense of recognition that makes us feel right at home in Melville territory. When we see this no-nonsense gang perform a bank robbery in that strictly tailored, but quietly suspenseful style it gives us reason to hope that this outing will be on par with the likes of his classic neo-noir/heist films.
Although Un Flic is comparatively minor next to the director’s aforementioned achievements, it’s still a studiously measured and competent crime film. The dimensions are all there–the geometrically precise action pieces, barebones dialogue, meditative temperament and cobalt blue color palette–but Un Flic doesn’t have the master’s touch, though mostly it retains the master’s look and feel. Melville’s steadily thumping pulse courses through the veins of Le Cercle Rouge, Le Deuxième Souffle, and Le Doulos but here it’s sadly undetectable. Though it’s played tight and trots through familiar wells of expression, showing the director’s eye for detailed procedural intrigue. But the characters don’t have the spark that we saw in Lino Ventura’s Gu (Le Deuxième Souffle) or the tortured alcoholic sharpshooter played by Yves Montand (Le Cercle Rouge), or, of course, Bob in Bob le Flambeur. These colorful creations provide the necessary juxtaposition that makes the precision of Melville’s storytelling less mechanical.
Is that to say that Un Flic is a bad film? Not at all, the director’s body of work is no easy act to follow, and that’s evidenced in that the director outfoxed himself in this case.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: So the relationship between Jean-Pierre Melville and The Criterion Collection is a little complicated due to the StudioCanal conflict that pulled a ton of great titles from their stock, many of which were movies from Melville. To break it down in the most coherent way possible; of the director’s works that are OOP in The Criterion Collection: Le Cercle Rouge, Le Doulos, Bob Le Flambeur, Leon Morin, Priest, Army of Shadows. Le Samourai recently got a Blu-ray upgrade; Le Silence de la Mer is available on DVD and Blu-ray; and Le Deuxième Souffle and Les Enfants Terribles are only accessible on DVD.
Much of this goes back to distribution rights with StudioCanal and so forth but, of Melville’s movies, his 1972 title Un Flic is one that might fall into Criterion’s network. The most available DVD of Un Flic is the Lionsgate release, which by proxy falls into the StudioCanal jurisdiction. But this title, along with the long OOP Le Cercle Rouge, are streaming on Filmstruck. With Le Samourai getting a Blu-ray upgrade after coming out on DVD fifteen years ago, and seeing Le Cercle Rouge appear on Filmstruck with Un Flic, something seems to be happening around the massive StudioCanal Blu-ray set of Melville’s work (Le Doulos, Bob le Flambeur, Léon Morin, Priest, Le Cercle Rouge, Army of Shadows, Un Flic). It doesn’t look like this Region B set is going to make its way over to North America but maybe this will loosen distribution arrangements with Criterion? Not to mention we’ve seen a gaggle of long OOP, practically “lost cause” titles like Sid & Nancy, Rebecca, and The Silence of the Lambs getting Blu-ray release so perhaps there’s an end in sight with these little distribution embargoes which will hopefully restore and reintroduce a wider network of films into the collection.