Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In the spirit of Life Of Riley, the final film by Alain Resnais, we’ve singled out other swan songs from master directors.
Un Flic (1972)
Jean-Pierre Melville’s protagonists are romantically lonely, stoic men of action, defined less by what they say (which is little) than what they do. Such is the case with Melville’s swan song, Un Flic, whose title refers to detective Edouard Coleman (Melville’s Le Samouraï and Le Cercle Rouge leading man, Alain Delon) but whose story is equally concerned with Simon (Richard Crenna), a club owner friend of Edouard who also happens to be a master thief. The film opens with Simon and three accomplices robbing a bank located at the wind- and rain-swept beach—a dour milieu that’s reflective of the action’s atmosphere of stylish chilliness. Simon and his cohorts get away with their initial heist, but as befitting such a prototypical Melville effort, the characters’ success or failure is less important than the rigid codes of conduct that they embrace—which for both Edouard and Simon involve a rigid adherence to honor, loyalty, and methodical attention to professional detail.
In Un Flic’s protracted centerpiece, Simon descends from a helicopter to a moving train, sneaks inside, washes up and changes into nighttime clothes (to appear like a passenger), knocks out a drug trafficker and takes his dope, then absconds with the drugs back up to the chopper—a sequence that Melville dramatizes with almost no dialogue, fixating instead on Crenna’s systematic work. The director’s interest in deeds rather than the spoken word means that Crenna’s dubbed dialogue never proves to be a distraction; Melville is allowed to more fully celebrate the poker-faced beauty and cool of his actors, who also include the classically gorgeous Catherine Deneuve as a woman beholden to both cop and crook. It’s yet another melancholic Melville neo-noir drenched in a mood of chic portentousness. And it ends—fittingly, given its standing as the auteur’s final film—on the peerlessly intense, expressionless blue eyes of Delon.
Availability: Un Flic (or Dirty Money, as it was called upon release in the States) is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, and to rent or purchase from the major digital services.