Saturday 24 February 2024

The Silence of the Sea [1949]

 It was only appropriate that Jean-Pierre Melville, who belonged to a left-wing family and adopted this nom de guerre during his involvement with the French Resistance, made his filmmaking debut with Le Silence de la Mer, an adaptation of the book by Vercors (nom de plume of Jean Bruller), who too was a member of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. The book was secretly published and distributed, and became an influential underground text, which Melville eloquently acknowledged in several ways – the opening scene indicated its clandestine and dissident nature; he filmed in the same house in which it was written; and he’d agreed to pull the plug on the film, including destroying the negatives, if Bruller refused approval for release. This Bressonian film – that is to say, spare, austere, minimalist and poetic parable with a deep moral core – clearly presaged Melvelle’s formal and aesthetic signatures that he’d take to bravura heights in subsequent years. In what he’d ironically quipped an “anti-film”, it focused on verbose one-way exchanges – brilliantly shot indoors in heavily expressionistic B/W by Henri Decaë – involving just three characters. A German officer (Howard Vernon), with a gushing love for French literature, is stationed in a house inhabited by an ageing French man (Jean-Marie Robain) and his young niece (Nicole Stéphane). Over the next few months, the naïve lieutenant indulges in sentimental monologues every evening, while the French pair refuses to acknowledge his presence, leading to a solemn meditation on political naïveté and passive resistance. It ended with a powerful line, which is the uncle’s sole response to the German during his departure, “It’s a noble thing for a soldier to disobey a criminal order.”

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/War

Language: French

Country: France

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