Bob Le Flambeur, 1955

Even in the underworld of professional gangsters and organized crime, there exists an implicit social structure. At the top of this criminal hierarchy is Bob (Roger Duchesne), an impeccably dressed, well-mannered reformed bank robber with a penchant for, or rather an addiction to, gambling. In fact, so well regarded is he that even the police inspector, Ledru (Guy Decomble), is a personal friend who shuttles him around town in a patrol car. Bob spends every waking moment engrossed in the game of chance. We first meet him in the back room of a closed nightclub playing dice, leave for another lounge where a poker game is in progress, then return home at dawn. One day, a petty criminal named Marc (Gerard Buhr) interrupts his sleep, asking for assistance. Marc has physically abused a prostitute named Lydia and is in danger of being identified to the police. Disapproving of Marc’s disreputable trade, he refuses to help, and Marc is arrested by Inspector Ledru. However, after striking a deal to serve as a police informant, Marc is released and begins to seek out a replacement for Lydia. One evening, Marc walks into a local bar with an underaged girl named Anne (Isabelle Corey). Bob comes to her aid by driving Marc away, inviting Anne to his table, and introducing him to his protégé, Paolo (Daniel Cauchy), who immediately falls in love with her. And so Bob’s daily ritual emerges: meeting his friends, teaching Paolo the tricks of the trade, making the rounds of the back room gambling circuit. While visiting a Deauville casino, a former acquaintance named Jean (Claude Cerval), now working as a croupier, reveals that a sizable fortune is locked away at the casino safe. Inevitably, the temptation of a final heist is too strong for Bob to avoid, and devises a plan to crack the safe.

A profound influence on Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Melville creates a stylish, atmospheric, and highly innovative portrait of the elegant criminal in Bob le Flambeur. Through incongruous soundtrack and odd angle camerawork, Melville redefines conventional cinema and ushers the nouvelle vague movement: the reflection of the gamblers against a dark window; a multi-perspective shot of a street cleaning vehicle circling the rotunda; an overhead shot of Bob pacing in the kitchen. Melville’s use of minimal, directed, high contrast lighting serves as a cinematic bridge between American film noir and traditional French cinema. The result is an engrossing film on fraternity, human nature, chance, and inescapable destiny – as original and incomparable as the charismatic gambler himself.

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