Friday, 30 May 2014

Of sad men in raincoats

Jean-Pierre Melville is one of my absolute favourite filmmakers, one of the very few who have made two films worthy of being included on an all-time top ten list. This post is a celebration of his films. If you are concerned about spoilers be aware that the ending of Le Samouraï (1967) is mentioned.


If there is one quintessential image from the extraordinary films of Jean-Pierre Melville it is of a man in a raincoat, looking weary or sad, apparently feeling abandoned by life and wondering what the point is, and why even bother going on.

Serge Reggiani in Le Doulos (1962). 

They are not ordinary men but gamblers, gangsters, policemen or French resistance fighters, although there is not much difference between them. They are the offspring of Philip Raven, played by Alan Ladd, in This Gun For Hire (Frank Tuttle 1942). Like Melville's men Raven suffers from insomnia and is suicidal at times, and he walks through life with a pained face. 

Melville's men are also related to those that appear in Odds Against Tomorrow (Robert Wise 1959), a major influence on Melville. Wise's men though are much angrier than Melville's.

Robert Ryan

It is more or less inevitable that they will die in the end, by their own hand or by somebody else's, and they do not necessarily mind, at least as long as they can die with honour. 

Bob le flambeur (1956)

The raincoat is worn regardless of the weather. It can even be worn when playing a spontaneous game of pool.

Le Cercle rouge (1970)

It is primarily a fatalist fashion statement and nobody looked better in it than Alain Delon.

Le Samouraï

Jean-Paul Belmondo, Richard Crenna and Lino Ventura (the saddest of them all) can also be seen, walking the windswept streets, wondering when it is all going to end and who it will be that betrays them. There is an existential disquietude in Melville's films and often it is fate that betrays his characters.

Le Deuxieme souffle (1966)

There are not just the men, there are women as well, and the world is as tough on them.

Emmanuelle Riva in Léon Morin, prêtre (1961).

Simone Signoret in L'armée des ombres (1969).

Cathy Rosier in Le Samouraï.

In the end of Le Samouraï, when it looks as if Jef (played by Delon) is about to shot Valérie (played by Rosier), she just says "Why Jef?" The action speaks for itself. He is not trying to kill her, it is himself he is trying to kill. "Why Jef?" A possible answer might be "Why not?"


  1. Which two would you put on your top 10 list? My favorite is ARMY OF SHADOWS.

    1. Le Samouraï and Le Doulos are the ones I like best, but it's a close shave.