Jean-Pierre Melville directs Howard Vernon, Jean-Marie Robain and Nicole Stéphane in this WWII drama where a German officer is billeted to a French country house who resist him by completely ignoring him.
A very simple drama that mainly takes place in one room. A film about the myth of national character and the needs for art and interaction over rigid control. Based on a novel written and published during occupation as an act of resistance. Resistance doesn’t take the form of bombs and assassinations as it does in other Melville thrillers. Here it is a family ignoring the presence of their unwanted invader. He comes down each evening, well mannered and trying to be unobtrusive, he talks in monologues that are intelligent, cultured, confessional but never risk asking a direct question that will be rebuffed. He makes small overtures to try and integrate himself into the home where he is unwelcome. And while we know from the elderly father’s narration he becomes an unexpectedly enjoyed presence, one they are sorely tempted to respond to, it also becomes subtlety clear that there is a burgeoning attraction between the stoic daughter and the complex, polite man of honour. All this remains unspoken but it is palpably there by the end. The final act is heartbreaking as a crushing choice is made by one character, whose eyes are opened to the realities of Nazi occupation. This is a small film, but artful, beautiful – fully transcending its stagey structure. Howard Vernon gives a superb performance as “the good German” charmingly pushing back against the silence, against the assigned hostilities. Yet it is the dowdy yet stunningly pretty Nicole Stéphane, lit by firelight, knitting without ever opening her mouth to speak, who sticks in the memory. Small flinches on her face, a head turned nearly always away from camera, we fill our own thoughts and desires into her vacant yet alluring profile.
Perfect Double Bill: Léon Morin, Priest (1961)
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