1972 // France // Jean-Pierre Melville
The distillation of Melville’s stylish gangster genre to a point where mannerism overrides the narrative, Un Flic was Melville’s last film before his death in 1973, and perhaps his most minimalistic, most “silent” film amidst his oeuvre. Dialogues are rarely conversated while gazings, often imbued with implicit desire, are dominating the screen and serving as hints on character’s interpersonal relationships. Hence at the night club scene where Commissaire Edouard Coleman (Alain Delon) is playing piano and exchanging eye contacts with Cathy (Catherine Deneuve), and a short moment later the club owner Simon (Richard Crenna) invades their intimate space by attracting the attention of their gazes, we know there’s a triangle relationship formed without a word uttered by any of the character.
But who’s attracting who? Catherine Deneuve, a big star in a bit role this time, amplifies her sense of presence in playing erotic “arrest” game with Coleman and acting as a death angel by injecting lethal drug to the wounded Marc (André Pousse) in a hospital, as a way to silence the mouth that could trace back to a bank robbery Simon, Marc, Paul (Riccardo Cucciolla) and Louis (Michael Conrad) committed together at the opening scene. But still Cathy is another marginalized woman as portrayed in other Melville’s masculine gangster films, some critics read it as a repressed homosexuality between Coleman and Simon, the good (cop) and the bad (robber) who could never be together. But what took me off by surprise is the transversite character who also works as an informer to Coleman. There’s undeniably a passion in the transversite’s eyes when we firstly saw them together inside Coleman‘s car, and later on pain and sorrow when he is wounded, physically being slapping by Coleman and mentally by Coleman’s rejection, when his information offered no result to the police. In Un Flic, one have to read the film by deducing the story behind the gazes, in order to grasp the narrative at the expense of being overread.
The film is unavoidably detached, even with the two impeccable heist sequence, the seaside bank robbery at the beginning and the heist on a running train sequence near 2/3 of the film. Emotion is drained to a void and only the execution of a plan is shown. Meticulously choreographed and paced in real-time (the train sequence is exactly 20 minutes just as Simon planned). The intensity comes from the professionalism Simon and his gangs adopted, they remain utterly calm even an alarm is triggered or when Marc is injured by gunfire. Like Robert Bresson, the action speaks the volume. Conversely, Coleman‘s “police procedure” lacks a depth and artistry in comparison, which leads to a climactic ending that draws no fulfillment and a death that totally detached and insignificant. Un Flic is the swan song of Melville that has as many merits as the problems it engaged, it’s not the film one would remember the most when talking about Melville. But like his character said in Godard’s Breathless, “to become immortal and die”, Melville has obtained immortality nonetheless.