I took in a screening of Jean-Pierre Melville’s final film, Un Flic, last night. I had always seen the film of something as an outlier next to the rest of the French filmmaker’s prestigious oeuvre, and a depressing epilogue to a remarkable career, but this most recent showing has seen me change my mind.
A remarkable opening scene, in which a bank robbery goes awry, is a masterclass in shaping tone. A dramatic rain storm overwhelms the frame, which is aiming to settle the viewer in to a sequence shot at a beachside lido, with a sense of eeriness matched by the sense of abandonment that houses the space. Elsewhere, Alain Delon charts the city, a cop in search of his next job. The director cuts between the city and the sea in abrupt fashion. In many ways it marks Melville at his most abstract.
For all of its avowed grittiness a sense of the unreal is carried through the picture, with cuts from a matte background to a painting in an art gallery suggesting that Melville was on top of this otherworldly, heightened tone. This is at its most explicit in the film’s somewhat infamous central heist sequence, which sees a locomotive robbed by helicopter. A toy train and RC helicopter were employed by the crew to capture this sequence, with the end result being a heist as daring as it is ridiculous. One can’t help but assume that Wes Anderson is a fan. The slow pace of the sequence coupled with the lack of a non-diegetic soundtrack make for a surprisingly thrilling moment in action cinema. A sequence involving an unconvincing curb-side Santa as informer marks the film out as an unlikely Xmas film, and one that I would recommend seeking out this festive season.
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