Tuesday, November 4, 2008

BOB LE FLAMBEUR (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1956, France) Bob is an aging icon in a young and violent underworld, an anachronism whose ghostly visage frequents gambling dens and seedy bars, a compulsive slave doomed to worship the always-fickle Lady Luck. Though Bob the High Roller haunts these dirty streets of Paris’s red-light district and he works just outside the firm handshake of the law, his morality remains unsoiled and honorable. He lives by a strict code that reviles pimps and con artists while helping those closest to him: he is a man of integrity in a rotten filthy world of cutthroat greed. But he is still human and begins to flirt with temptation, sowing his own seeds of self-destruction. Melville films in a classic noir fashion with beautiful black and white cinematography; his discreet camera movements establish the dark side of Paris and create intimacy with the characters…and the locales. Bob also dresses and acts the part of cool gangster, a father figure to an impressionable Paolo, and evades the taunting sexuality of the femme fatale: here Melville breaks with convention and begins to create a masterpiece. He uses mirrors and circular motifs as homage to cruel fate; Bob a wrinkled dark reflection of his younger self, an old man with empty pockets and soul, somehow wondering were he became ensnared, propelled towards an inescapable grand finale of hot lead and thick warm blood. As the narrative unfolds, Bob seems at peace with himself knowing instinctually that this last great heist will go awry; he recruits the help and finance of others but they all assume the same risk including his protégé Paolo. The chance to grab millions in currency is just too great for our protagonist and he bets it all in one last gasp. But Bob is ill prepared for an ironic twist of fate; he finally hits the big payoff legally and goes on a winning streak against all odds. This distraction causes him to lose focus but it’s too late: the robbery has begun and the cops are tipped off. From play-acting to violent death, Paolo tastes the metallic tinge of death while Bob looks on, older but no wiser. Bob remains faithful to his mistress Lady Luck…but she ultimately cheats on him. (B+)

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