Watching this film having become familiar with director Jean-Pierre Melville’s later works — stripped-back, laconic Parisian films for the most part, often genre flicks about gangsters — makes this early film of his come as quite a surprise. However, given its basis in a Jean Cocteau novel, and the latter’s collaboration on this script and involvement as the film’s narrator, it does feel a lot more like a Cocteau film than what would be Melville’s signature, which is helped along by some of the poetic effects (some backwards looped film at one point reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, and hints of sexual ambiguity suggestive of Orpheus, which Cocteau directed the same year). Certainly there’s a melodramatic tension to the central couple, a brother and sister, whose toxic relationship is a danger to all around them; they are very much terrible children (even if the actors are in their 20s), both to their deceased parents and to the audience. The tropes are familiar from any number of modern teen movies, and their antics would be unbearable except for the stylishness of the filming and the musical score. There are hints here of some of the archness of the Nouvelle Vague, which makes sense given their positive reception of this film.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Jean-Pierre Melville; Writers Melville and Jean Cocteau (based on the novel by Cocteau); Cinematographer Henri Decaë; Starring Nicole Stéphane, Édouard Dermit, Jacques Bernard, Renée Cosima, Jean Cocteau; Length 106 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), Wellington, Thursday 11 February 2021.