Classics: Le silence de la mer (Melville – 1949)

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for Cinetalk.net

Jean-Pierre Melville’s first feature, Le silence de la mer, is a 1949 adaptation of the short story by Jean Bruller (Pen name: Vercors) written in 1942 under Nazi occupied France.

During world war II, a man and his niece’s residence is assigned to a German officer. The officer is an idealistic and a man of culture. Trying to establish a dialogue with his two reluctant hosts he is confronted to their perpetual silence as a form of resistance. They don’t even acknowledge is presence. In response, he perpetually talks to them, expressing ideas and feelings with decency, displaying dignity by acting as a grateful guest.

Restored for Blu-Ray to its glorious black and white sharp imagery, signed by legendary cinematographer Henri Decaë, Le silence de la mer reveals a great filmmaker on the way to become famous. The action, confined mainly to one room, consists of the officer’s monologue echoed by the thoughts of the Frenchman heard in his case as a voice over. But Both Melville and Decaë obviously knew how to bring Vercors’ story to the screen with cinematic flair. With dedicated attention to details they propose a series of inspired framing and first rate shadow and light. They create an utterly poetic, if minimalist, environment in which the main cast, Swiss born Howard Vernon and French actors Nicole Stéphane and Jean-Marie Robain , convey a great deal of restrain emotions with grace.

Le Silence de la Mer is a masterwork of beauty and humanism.

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