Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville was born as Jean-Pierre Grumbach in 1917 Paris, France to a family of Alsatian Jews. After the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Grumbach entered the French Resistance to oppose the German Nazis who occupied the country. He adopted the name Melville, after the American author Herman Melville, a favorite novelist of his. Melville was involved in the Resistance between 1941 and 1943, was jailed in Spain, and his own brother was killed trying to reach him. He then joined the Free French in North Africa in 1943, took part in the Italian and French liberation campaigns in 1944, and eventually fought in Operation Dragoon. When Melville returned from the war, he applied for a license to become an assistant director, but was refused. Without this support, he decided to direct his films by his own means, and continued to use Melville as his stage name. Melville became well known for his fatalistic, minimalist film noir crime dramas, such as Bob le flambeur (1956), Le Samourai (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1969), starring major actors such as Alain Delon (the definitive calm and cool “Melvillian” actor), Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura. Influenced by American cinema, especially gangster films of the 30’s and 40’s, Melville used accessories such as pistols, trench coats and fedora hats, to shape a characteristic look in his movies. Melville’s visual tone and style involved various lights and shadows, washed out colors of grays and blues, and action in place of dialogue. Most of the suspense and drama that comes from Melville’s gangster films are from the restrained minimalist performances in the characters, its gritty and meticulous attention to detail, and the stoic and detached facial expressions which create a threatening intensity within the actors. Melville’s most personal film is Army of Shadows (1969), a bleak, hopeless and fatalistic true story which explores several members of the French Resistance who secretly tried to defeat the Nazi party. Unlike Melville’s gangster pictures that usually involve calm and cool anti-heroes, daring police chases and thrilling bank heists, the characters in Army of Shadows are cold, desperate and hungry scared men and women, who invisibly go through the Nazi occupation of France trying to defeat this uprising evil. Since Melville started his directing career immediately before the French New Wave exploded onto the film scene, his career didn’t quite get the recognition it deserved. And yet Melville became one of the first self-made independent filmmakers at the time, shooting most of his films on small budgets and real locations, essentially paving the way for the French New Wave.

Jean-Pierre Melville
Jean-Pierre Melville Featured Films
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Articles and Essays on Jean-Pierre Melville

Army of Shadows (1969)

Jean-Pierre Melville’s most personal film Army of Shadows is a bleak, brutal and sad film that tells the true story on several members of the French Resistance who secretly tried to defeat the Nazi party. Unlike Melville’s other films that usually involve calm and cool anti-heroes, daring police chases and thrilling heists, the characters in Army of Shadows are […]


Le Samourai (1967)

“There is no greater solitude than that of a Samurai, unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle…” Bushido (Book of the Samurai) The film opens to an near empty room, along with the sound of a bird chirping in its cage. In the shadows we can barely see a man laying on […]