Friday, September 26, 2008

Bob Le Flambeur

When I hear a film described as a “comedy of manners,” I expect to see characters dressed in 19th century garb spouting the ironic words by novelists such as Jane Austen to show the ridiculousness of “acceptable” manners of a particular class, typically the upper class. Yet, Jean-Paul Melville uses that phrase to describe Bob le Flambeur, a heist film. Bob represents the upper class of criminals who gambles and robs institutions like banks and casinos. Unlike the upper classes in Jane Austen’s novels, Bob’s manners seem to be commendable. For example, he refuses to help out a pimp who beats up prostitutes. He saves a police officer’s life and provides shelter for a woman even though she revealed his heist to a rival. Yet, the subtitles show that he speaks in colloquialisms that are often found in the gangster films such as “clams” for dollars. So, while appearing to be a gentleman, Bob does not speak like one.

As a “comedy of manners” shows the consequences of adhering or defying conventions, Bob le Flambeur defies the most important convention of a heist film, the successful execution of the heist. Despite adhering to the planning and rehearsing conventions of a heist film, Melville seems to do so sarcastically. For example, he has the tension-filled safecracking rehearsal that depends on the oscilloscope to find the right combination. Yet, he includes shots of the panting dog which one would assume that somehow the panting will throw off the oscilloscope. Instead, the dog happily pants taking away the seriousness of the rehearsal.

Since Bob took the money from the casino in the acceptable manner by winning, Melville must have thought Bob would have been rude if he executed the heist. Why do something dishonestly when you are succeeding in doing it honestly? But then Melville would have been rude to us if he did not give Bob some consolation from the cop because he made us sympathetic towards Bob.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


People often say that they had their breath taken away the moment they laid their eyes on the person that they are in love with. Patricia in Jean-Luc Goddard’s Breathless waits for this moment to come to her. She often questions her feelings toward the gangster Michel throughout the film. She tells him that she wants him to love her the way that Romeo loves Juliet. But at the same time she fears that kind of love. Michel tries but ultimately fails to convince Patricia leading her to betray him in the end. Like Romeo, Michel often declares that he cannot live without her. However, she tells him that she believes that he can. Fueling that belief is his constant pleas to have sex with her that usually follows. She can only believe that he cannot live without sex from her.

Just as Romeo describes Juliet’s beauty, Michel also describes Patricia’s beauty. However, he does not do this when Patricia asks him to say something nice to her as she leans against the window with sunlight behind her, a perfect film setting for a romantic moment. Instead, he does it in a car before he drops her off to see a journalist. Yet, the editing betrays the romanticism of the description of her lovely body parts by only presenting Patricia in a series of jump cuts while we hear his sentiments off-screen. The jump cuts and the shots of Patricia in profile or from behind make Michel’s comments sound tedious and insincere to Patricia. In the following scene, the journalist seems to double for Michel as he is presented in a series of jump cuts as he tells Patricia a story about a girl he thought he wanted to have sex with.

Michel also fails to make Patricia breathless when she stands in a Juliet-like pose on the second floor of a hideout. She probably expects him to tell her again that he cannot live without her or that he will say something nice to her. But he does not and chooses to make a phone call which prompts her to inform the police of his whereabouts thus failing to play Michel’s version of Juliet. Earlier in the film, Michel tells her a story about a man who stole five million francs to impress a girl. When the man told the girl that the money was stolen, she stood by him eventually joining him as his lookout, “a good girl” according to Michel. By telling this story to Patricia, he hopes that Patricia would do the same. Unlike Juliet, Patricia does not make any sacrifice and steely concludes that she does not love Michel. Michel, in turn, performs a Romeo-like sacrifice and decides to go to prison but dies instead. Yet, as mentioned in class, Michel’s death stems most likely from fulfilling the gangster genre convention instead out of love for Patricia. As for Patricia, she does not die like Juliet but does become a victim of misunderstanding. When she asks the police officers to interpret Michel’s dying words, they tell her that he said that she was a scumbag instead of telling her the truth. The last frame suggests that she has found her breathless moment not caused from any feeling of love but from shock of being unloved.