Thursday, September 30, 2010

Le Silence de la Mer

Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-73), 1949, 75m

This is a film set during the German Occupation of France during WW2. The director experienced this period first hand which gives the film veracity.

A German officer is lodged with an elderly citizen and his niece in the country side. On the surface France under Occupation seems a peaceful place--shops do business, people go around doing their duties, horse carriages move in the street. But  the price of capitulation has been paid for this tense and unnatural peace.. The French co-operate with the Germans in a sullen and defiant way.

The Officer is very un-Nazi like in terms of his courtesy, consideration towards his French hosts and quite apologetic  about having had to barge in. He is a man of culture and music and idealistically believes that the German Occupation is the beginning of a great new era of Utopian peace and friendship between the two nations.

The Uncle and niece maintain absolute silence throughout the film, not so much as acknowledging his presence. The Uncle continues at his reading and his pipe while his niece will not raise her eyes from her knitting as the uninvited guest continues in his reverie. The German, a lover of French culture visits them everyday and carries on a monologue about literature, music and his admiration for France and French things. Gradually the relationship between the Nazi officer and his French hosts mellows, and this is subtly probed through changes in gesture and expression.

Finally, on a visit to Paris, he learns of the concentration camps and the true German intention of crushing France in body and spirit. He returns, disillusioned and horrified to his hosts in the countryside and the film closes on a subdued note.

This is a simplistic and sentimental film. It would seem that the true horror of the reality and intentions of the Germans dawned slowly on the French, even as they were about to be squashed under the German heel. Perhaps they were even slower than the English to catch on. It is possible lots of Germans knew little of what was happening.

 The film is based on a book of the same name which was secretly circulated during the Occupation. This must have been the way a large section of the French must have protested the alien presence. The activities of the militant Resistance Movement are documented in the same director's Army of Shadows. Clearly, the French Resistance was no Vietnam War.

I would rate it as the first assay by a fledgling film maker. It is a truthful parable about a people humiliated. And what a contrast to the American  Occupation of Japan.

And, of course, not all Nazi's were bad. There was Schindler too.                          


Nathanael Hood said...

What's this I hear about the Vietnam War and the Japanese Occupation?!?!?!?

You talking smack!!!

Put 'em up! Put 'em up!

Bah! Relax, I'm just kidding.

Anyway, on to the actual film. I agree that it definitely felt like a amateur film production in some senses. We all know that Melville eventually found his artistic niche doing crime and gangster pictures. But his earlier works, such as this one, are definitely worth checking out. It is always fascinating to experience the full breadth of a filmmaker's oeuvre so that their works can be compared and contrasted.

S. M. Rana said...

I agree Le Samourai was a very unique film and probably the others in the gangster genre must be equally good.

Wondering what Vietnam or occupation of Japan has to do with this? I only said the two occupations were different as were the two resistance movements-France and Vietnam.

The two films--this one and Army of Shadows are interesting from a historical viewpoint because Melville saw that period--the German invasion--first hand as a young man. He would have been 32 in 1949, when this film was made.

Wherein is smack? Put 'em up I guess means "Stick 'em Up" or "Hands Up!" it so? This movie didn't feature a single gunshot but that's not what I'm finding fault with. Anyway, there is a natural cultural distance, language wise.

I certainly did not consider this film as a waste of time. My viewpoint only is that with life being so brief how can we settle for anything other than the very best.

And come to think of it, the single word "Adieu" spoken by the girl at the end is a characteristic masterstroke, no less than the unloaded gun in Samourai--with layers of meaning.

Bah? Huh? Kiddin'!

I'm going to see another movie about the French Resistance--Louis Malle's Au Revoir, Les Enfants--the period makes me wonder what kind of choices and situation the French faced at the time.

S. M. Rana said...

n other words the French Resistance was not much of a resistance (compared to the ferocity of the Vietnamese resistance). The German Occupation had intentions opposite to the very benign American Occupation in Japan.

After all, Le Silence de la Mer is not a love story but derived from a first person historical experience of Mr. Melville.

So I'm curious to understand where I'm smacking and what is the bah about (unless it is about you belong from the US, in which case I am sorry to touch a sore spot, if one).

Correct me where I am wrong, since I am not a history expert.

Jeff said...

Here is the kaleidoscopic back-view on the French Resistance during WW2:

Nathanael Hood said...

Okay, let me explain....

I was just joking around. A common stereotype of overly patriotic Americans is that they are quick to fight when insulted.

So, "put 'em up" is a euphemism for putting your fists up so you can engage in boxing.

When you mentioned the Japanese Occupation and the Vietnam War, I pretended to be a blowhard American ready to fight any perceived insults.

Understand, you didn't say or do anything insulting. I was just fooling around.

S. M. Rana said...

What an interesting explanation! How easy it is to misinterpret! You have made me clear that with the global nature of the net, one needs to have a correspondingly global sensitivity.


litdreamer said...

And talking smack means talking nonsense. Now, for this lesson in English Slang 101, you owe me $10. ;-)

S. M. Rana said...

@LD: At this rate I'll soon be de-millionarised.