Jean-Pierre Melville was a French filmmaker known for his stylish and intense crime dramas. His films are characterized by their minimalist style, stark visuals, and moody, existential themes.

Some of Melville’s most acclaimed and beloved films include “Le Samouraï”, “Bob le Flambeur”, and “Army of Shadows”.

“Le Samouraï” is widely regarded as one of Melville’s masterpieces, and is a stylish and suspenseful crime drama that follows a hitman named Jef Costello, played by Alain Delon.

The film is notable for its spare visual style, tense pacing, and Delon’s iconic performance as the brooding, enigmatic antihero.

“Bob le Flambeur” is another classic of French cinema, and is a stylish and atmospheric heist film set in the seedy underworld of Paris.

The film features some of Melville’s most iconic visuals, as well as a memorable performance by Roger Duchesne as the titular gambler and criminal mastermind.

Other notable Melville films include “Le Cercle Rouge”, a gritty and suspenseful heist film, and “Un Flic”, a moody and atmospheric crime drama that stars Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve.

Best Jean-Pierre Melville Films

Jean-Pierre Melville’s films are a powerful and evocative exploration of the human condition, and are a testament to the power of cinema to capture complex emotions and ideas with a spare and minimalist visual style.

1. Le Samouraï (1967)

“Le Samouraï” is a 1967 French crime film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring Alain Delon in the lead role.

The film tells the story of a professional hitman named Jef Costello, who is tasked with assassinating a nightclub owner but finds himself on the run from both the police and his own employers after being betrayed.

Here are some key features of the film:

Visual style: “Le Samouraï” is renowned for its minimalist visual style, which emphasizes the use of color, light, and shadow to create a moody and atmospheric tone.

The film is shot in a cool blue-gray color palette, with many scenes taking place at night, adding to the sense of isolation and detachment of the main character.

Melville’s use of long, unbroken shots and static framing gives the film a sense of stillness and detachment.

   

Characterization: Alain Delon’s portrayal of Jef Costello is a key part of the film’s success. Costello is a stoic and silent figure who carries out his job with ruthless efficiency, but who is also shown to be lonely and isolated from the world around him.

The film’s portrayal of Costello as a “modern samurai” echoes themes of honor and discipline that are often associated with Japanese culture.

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Le samouraï (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Alain Delon (Actor)
  • Jean-Pierre Melville (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

2. Army of Shadows (1969)

“Army of Shadows” is a 1969 film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, set in German-occupied France during World War II.

The film follows the story of a group of French Resistance fighters as they struggle to maintain their resistance against the Nazi regime, while facing personal conflicts and ethical dilemmas.

The film is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the French New Wave movement, and is noted for its somber, existential tone, as well as its realistic portrayal of the Resistance.

It features a stellar cast, including Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, and Jean-Pierre Cassel, and is known for its iconic scenes and powerful themes.

“Army of Shadows” has been cited as one of the greatest war films ever made and is a must-watch for fans of the genre or of Melville’s work.

Army of Shadows (The Criterion Collection)
  • Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel (Actors)
  • Jean-Pierre Melville (Director) - Jean-Pierre Melville (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

3. Bob le Flambeur (1956)

“Bob le Flambeur” is a classic of French cinema and one of the most iconic films of Jean-Pierre Melville’s career.

The film tells the story of Bob Montagné (Roger Duchesne), a retired gambler and criminal who is lured back into the world of crime by a group of younger criminals who want to rob a casino in Deauville.

The film is notable for its stylish and atmospheric visual style, which captures the seedy underworld of Paris with a moody and evocative palette of dark shadows and stark contrasts.

Melville’s use of location shooting and handheld cameras give the film a gritty and immediate feel, while the film’s jazzy score adds to the film’s cool, stylish vibe.

   

At the center of the film is Duchesne’s iconic performance as Bob, a charismatic and enigmatic figure who exudes a sense of quiet intensity and world-weary charm.

The supporting cast, which includes Guy Decomble, André Garet, and Daniel Cauchy, is also strong, and helps to bring the world of the film to life.

Overall, “Bob le Flambeur” is a stylish and atmospheric heist film that showcases Melville’s unique visual style and his ability to capture complex emotions and ideas with a minimalist and spare approach.

The film remains a classic of French cinema and a must-see for fans of crime dramas and film noir.

Bob Le Flambeur (English Subtitled)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Gérard Buhr (Actors)
  • Jean-Pierre Melville (Director) - Auguste Le Breton (Writer) - Jean-Pierre Melville (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

4. Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

“Le Cercle Rouge” is a 1970 French crime film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, starring Alain Delon, Yves Montand, and Gian Maria Volontè.

The film tells the story of a recently released convict, a police detective, and a sharpshooter who band together to carry out a jewelry heist in Paris.

Here are some key characteristics of the film:

Visual style: As with many of Melville’s films, “Le Cercle Rouge” emphasizes a cool and detached visual style.

The film is shot in a muted color palette, with long takes and minimal camera movement. The emphasis is on the characters’ actions and the environment in which they operate, creating a sense of realism that contrasts with the stylized nature of many Hollywood crime films.

   

Characterization: The three main characters in “Le Cercle Rouge” are complex and well-developed, each with their own motivations and backstories.

Delon’s character, Corey, is a recently released convict with a mysterious past, while Montand’s character, Jansen, is a police detective with a drinking problem.

Volontè’s character, Vogel, is a sharpshooter and a master of disguise. The film explores their interactions and conflicts as they come together for the heist.

Themes: “Le Cercle Rouge” touches on several themes that are common in Melville’s work, including loyalty, honor, and fate.

The film suggests that the characters are ultimately unable to escape their destinies, no matter how hard they try.

The final scenes of the film, in which the characters are pursued by the police and by fate itself, are particularly poignant and impactful.

Overall, “Le Cercle Rouge” is a stylish and compelling crime film that showcases Melville’s talent for creating complex characters and understated visuals.

The film’s exploration of themes of fate and destiny, combined with its tense and suspenseful heist plot, make it a must-see for fans of the crime genre.

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Le Cercle Rouge (The Criterion Collection)
  • Alain Delon, Bourvil, Gian Maria Volontè (Actors)
  • Jean-Pierre Melville (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

5. Le Deuxième Souffle (1966)

“Le Deuxième Souffle” (The Second Wind) is a 1966 film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.

It follows the story of Gustave “Gu” Minda (played by Lino Ventura), a notorious thief who escapes from prison and goes on the run, pursued by both the police and members of the criminal underworld.

The film is known for its complex plot, stylish direction, and outstanding performances from its cast.

It is often cited as one of Melville’s best works, and is particularly noted for its use of tension and suspense, as well as its exploration of themes such as loyalty and betrayal.

The film’s title “Le Deuxième Souffle” (The Second Wind) refers to the idea of a second chance, which is a central theme of the film.

The term can also refer to the second breath that an athlete takes to push through the pain and continue on, a metaphor for the perseverance and determination of the film’s characters.

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Le Deuxième Souffle
  • Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Raymond Pellegrin (Actors)
  • Jean-Pierre Melville (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

6. Le Doulos (1962)

“Le Doulos” is a classic crime film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, and is widely regarded as one of his greatest works.

The film tells the story of Maurice Faugel (Serge Reggiani), a recently released criminal who finds himself drawn back into the world of crime by his friend and former accomplice Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo).

But as the plot twists and turns, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems, and everyone has their own hidden agendas.

The film is notable for its stylish and minimalist visual style, which captures the seedy underworld of Paris with a moody and atmospheric palette of dark shadows and stark contrasts.

Melville’s use of location shooting and handheld cameras give the film a gritty and immediate feel, while the film’s jazz score adds to the film’s cool, stylish vibe.

At the center of the film is Reggiani’s haunting performance as Maurice, a brooding and intense figure who struggles to navigate the complex web of alliances and betrayals that define the world of crime.

Belmondo is also excellent as the enigmatic and charismatic Silien, who seems to be a friend to everyone but whose true loyalties remain unclear.

Overall, “Le Doulos” is a stylish and suspenseful crime drama that showcases Melville’s unique visual style and his ability to create complex, morally ambiguous characters.

The film remains a classic of French cinema and a must-see for fans of crime dramas and film noir.

Le Doulos
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, Jean Desailly (Actors)
  • Jean-Pierre Melville (Director) - Jean-Pierre Melville (Writer) - Georges de Beauregard (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

7. A Cop (1972)

“A Cop” (French title: “Un flic”) is a 1972 crime film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, starring Alain Delon as the titular police officer.

The film follows the investigations of a Parisian police commissioner as he attempts to catch a notorious thief who has been pulling off a series of daring heists.

Here are three characteristics of “A Cop”:

Cool, minimalist style: As with many of Melville’s films, “A Cop” emphasizes a cool and understated visual style.

The film is shot in a muted color palette, with long takes and minimal camera movement.

The emphasis is on the characters’ actions and the environment in which they operate, creating a sense of realism that contrasts with the stylized nature of many Hollywood crime films.

Complex characters: The two main characters in “A Cop” are complex and well-developed, each with their own motivations and backstories.

Delon’s character, Edouard Coleman, is a police commissioner who is torn between his loyalty to the law and his friendship with a notorious criminal.

The thief, played by Richard Crenna, is similarly conflicted, struggling to balance his criminal activities with his love for a nightclub singer.

Themes: “A Cop” touches on several themes that are common in Melville’s work, including loyalty, betrayal, and the nature of justice.

The film explores the tension between the police and criminals, suggesting that there is often a fine line between the two.

It also suggests that justice is not always clear-cut, and that the characters must navigate their own moral compasses in order to survive.

Overall, “A Cop” is a stylish and compelling crime film that showcases Melville’s talent for creating complex characters and understated visuals.

The film’s exploration of themes of loyalty and justice, combined with its tense and suspenseful plot, make it a must-see for fans of the crime genre.

Un Flic [DVD]
  • Alain Delon, Richard Crenna, Catherine Deneuve (Actors)
  • Jean-Pierre Melville (Director) - Jean-Pierre Melville (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

8. Le Silence de la Mer (1949)

“Le Silence de la Mer” (The Silence of the Sea) is a 1949 film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.

It is based on the novel of the same name by Jean Bruller, who wrote under the pseudonym Vercors, and tells the story of a German officer (played by Howard Vernon).

who is billeted in the home of an elderly Frenchman and his niece (played by Jean-Marie Robain and Nicole Stéphane) during the Nazi occupation of France.

The film is known for its sparse dialogue and understated style, which reflects the silence of the French people and their refusal to cooperate with the occupying forces.

It is a powerful meditation on the nature of resistance and the complexities of human relationships under extreme circumstances.

“Le Silence de la Mer” was Melville’s first feature film and is considered a masterpiece of French cinema.

It is often cited as one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, and is a must-watch for fans of Melville’s work or of the French New Wave movement.

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Le silence de la mer
  • Howard Vernon, Nicole Stéphane, Jean-Marie Robain (Actors)
  • Jean-Pierre Melville (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

9. Léon Morin, Priest (1961)

“Léon Morin, Priest” is a drama film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Emmanuelle Riva.

The film is set in a small town in France during the German occupation, and follows the story of Barny (Riva), a young widow who falls in love with Léon Morin (Belmondo).

a charismatic and unconventional priest who challenges her beliefs and leads her to question her own identity and desires.

The film is notable for its understated and intimate approach, as Melville focuses on the internal struggles and emotional journeys of the characters rather than the larger historical context of the film’s setting.

The film also features a subdued and atmospheric visual style, which captures the quiet beauty of the French countryside with a muted and naturalistic color palette.

At the center of the film are the performances of Belmondo and Riva, who both deliver nuanced and powerful performances as two individuals struggling to reconcile their desires and beliefs in a world defined by conflict and uncertainty.

Belmondo, in particular, is excellent as Léon Morin, capturing the character’s unconventional and charismatic personality with a subtle and understated approach.

Overall, “Léon Morin, Priest” is a powerful and emotionally resonant drama that showcases Melville’s ability to capture complex human emotions with a minimalist and understated approach.

The film remains a classic of French cinema and a must-see for fans of intimate and character-driven dramas.

Leon Morin, Priest (The Criterion Collection)
  • Belmondo, Jean-Paul, Riva, Emmanuelle, Tunc, Irene (Actors)
  • Melville, Jean-Pierre (Director)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

3 Characteristics of Jean-Pierre Melville Films

Here are three characteristics of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films:

Stylistic approach: Melville’s films are known for their cool, elegant style, often featuring stylish cinematography, a minimalist color palette, and long takes.

His use of high-contrast black-and-white cinematography, chiaroscuro lighting, and spare mise-en-scène is especially notable.

Themes of loyalty and betrayal: Many of Melville’s films explore themes of loyalty and betrayal, often through the lens of gangsters and the criminal underworld.

His characters are often caught between competing loyalties, and must make difficult choices in order to survive.

Homage to American cinema: Melville was a great admirer of American cinema, and his films often pay homage to the classic Hollywood genres of film noir and the gangster film.

He drew inspiration from the films of directors like John Huston, Howard Hawks, and Orson Welles, and his work often features characters who are heavily influenced by American culture.

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Jean-Pierre Melville Films

In conclusion, Jean-Pierre Melville was a highly influential and innovative filmmaker, whose work has had a lasting impact on the crime and thriller genres.

His films are known for their cool and understated visual style, complex characters, and exploration of themes such as loyalty, betrayal, and justice.

Some of his best-known and most highly-regarded films include “Le Samouraï” (1967), “Army of Shadows” (1969), “Le Cercle Rouge” (1970), and “Bob le Flambeur” (1956).

These films showcase Melville’s unique vision and his ability to create tense, suspenseful narratives that keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Whether you are a fan of crime films, thrillers, or just great cinema, Jean-Pierre Melville’s films are definitely worth watching.

His legacy as a filmmaker continues to be felt today, and his influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary directors.

Best Jean-Pierre Melville Films – Wrapping Up

In conclusion, Jean-Pierre Melville was a highly influential and innovative filmmaker, whose work has had a lasting impact on the crime and thriller genres.

His films are known for their cool and understated visual style, complex characters, and exploration of themes such as loyalty, betrayal, and justice.

Some of his best-known and most highly-regarded films include “Le Samouraï” (1967), “Army of Shadows” (1969), “Le Cercle Rouge” (1970), and “Bob le Flambeur” (1956).

These films showcase Melville’s unique vision and his ability to create tense, suspenseful narratives that keep audiences on the edge of their seats.

Whether you are a fan of crime films, thrillers, or just great cinema, Jean-Pierre Melville’s films are definitely worth watching.

His legacy as a filmmaker continues to be felt today, and his influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary directors.