Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville (French: [mɛlvil]; born Jean-Pierre Grumbach; 20 October 1917 – 2 August 1973) was a French filmmaker.

Jean-Pierre Melville
Jean-Pierre Grumbach

(1917-10-20)20 October 1917
Paris, France
Died2 August 1973(1973-08-02) (aged 55)
Paris, France
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter
Spouse(s)Florence Melville

While with the French Resistance during World War II, he adopted the nom de guerre Melville as a tribute to his favorite American author, Herman Melville.[1] He kept it as his stage name once the war was over. Spiritual father of the French New Wave, he influenced the new generation of filmmakers in Asia (John Woo, Ringo Lam, Johnnie To, Takeshi Kitano), in Europe (Aki Kaurismäki, Rainer Werner Fassbinder), and in America (Michael Mann, Walter Hill, Quentin Tarantino, William Friedkin, Jim Jarmusch).[2]

Life and career

Jean-Pierre Grumbach was born in 1917 in Paris, France, the son of Berthe and Jules Grumbach.[3] His family were 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 nom de guerre Melville after the American author Herman Melville, a favorite of his. Melville fought in Operation Dragoon.[4]

When he 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. He became an independent film-maker and owned his own studio, rue Jenner, in Paris 13ème. [5]

He became well known for his tragic, minimalist film noir crime dramas, such as Le Doulos (1962), Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1970), starring major actors such as Alain Delon (probably the definitive "Melvillian" actor), Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura. Influenced by American cinema, especially gangster films of the 1930s and 1940s,[6] he used accessories such as weapons, clothes (trench coats), and fedora hats, to shape a characteristic look in his movies.

Melville ultimately became so identified with the style that The New Yorker's Anthony Lane wrote the following about a 2017 retrospective of his films: "This is how you should attend the forthcoming retrospective of Jean-Pierre Melville movies at Film Forum: Tell nobody what you are doing. Even your loved ones—especially your loved ones—must be kept in the dark. If it comes to a choice between smoking and talking, smoke. Dress well but without ostentation. Wear a raincoat, buttoned and belted, regardless of whether there is rain. Any revolver should be kept, until you need it, in the pocket of the coat. Finally, before you leave home, put your hat on. If you don’t have a hat, you can’t go."[7]

Melville's independence and "reporting" style of film-making (he was one of the first French directors to use real locations regularly) were a major influence on the French New Wave film movement. Jean-Luc Godard used him as a minor character in his seminal New Wave film Breathless. When Godard was having difficulty editing the film, Melville suggested that he just cut directly to the best parts of a shot. Godard was inspired and the film's innovative use of jump cuts have become part of its fame.[8]

Although a friend of left-wing icons such as Yves Montand, Melville referred to himself as "an extreme individualist" and "a right-wing anarchist" in terms of politics.[8]

In 1963 he was invited as one of the jury at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival.[9]


Melville died on 2 August 1973 from a stroke while dining with writer Philippe Labro at the Hôtel PLM Saint-Jacques restaurant in Paris. He was 55 years old. Melville was then writing his next film, Contre-enquête, a spy thriller for producer Jacques-Éric Strauss with Yves Montand in the lead. Melville had apparently already scripted the first 200 shots for the film. After Melville's death, Labro took over the project, hoping to finish writing and direct it himself, but he eventually dropped it to film Le hasard et la violence (1974), also starring Montand and for producer Strauss.[10]


TitleYearCredited asNotesRef(s)
24 heures de la vie d'un clown 1946 Yes Yes Yes Yes Short film
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne 1948 Yes actor [12]
Le Silence de la mer 1949 Yes Yes Yes Film editor [13]
Les Enfants terribles 1950 Yes Yes Yes Yes Production director, actor [14]
Orpheus 1950 Yes Actor [12][15]
Quatre sans millions! 1951 Yes Short film, actor [12]
When You Read This Letter 1953 Yes Yes Yes Adaptation [16][17]
Bob le flambeur 1956 Yes Yes Yes Yes Adaptation, voice-over [18][19]
Amour de poche 1957 Yes Actor [12]
Mimi Pinson 1958 Yes Actor [12][20]
Two Men in Manhattan 1959 Yes Yes Yes Yes Adaptation, dialogue, cinematographer, actor ("Moreau") [21]
Breathless 1960 Yes Actor [12][22]
Léon Morin, Priest 1961 Yes Yes Yes Dialogues [23][24]
Landru 1963 Yes Actor [12][25]
Le Doulos 1963 Yes Yes Yes Adaptation, dialogues [26][27]
Magnet of Doom 1963 Yes Yes Yes Adaptation, dialogues [28][29]
Le deuxième souffle 1966 Yes Yes Yes Dialogues [30][31]
Le Samouraï 1967 Yes Yes Yes Dialogues [32][33]
Army of Shadows 1969 Yes Yes Yes Dialogues [34][35]
Le Cercle rouge 1970 Yes Yes Yes Dialogues [36][37]
Un flic 1972 Yes Yes Yes Dialogues [38][39]

Further reading

  • Ginette Vincendeau Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris, 2003, BFI Publishing, ISBN 0-85170-949-4
  • Tim Palmer "An Amateur of Quality: Postwar Cinema and Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SILENCE DE LA MER," Journal of Film and Video, 59:4, Fall 2006, pp. 3–19
  • Tim Palmer "Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI", in Phil Powrie (ed.) The Cinema of France, 2006, Wallflower
  • Tim Palmer "Jean-Pierre Melville and 1970s French Film Style," Studies in French Cinema, 2:3, Spring 2003
  • Bertrand Tessier "Jean-Pierre Melville, le solitaire", Editions Fayard, Paris, 2017. The first Jean-Pierre Melville's biography. "The resistance period is informed on a different way through unpublished documents" (Le monde) [40]

Code Name Melville

Produced in 2008, the 76-minute-long feature documentary Code Name Melville (original French title: Sous le nom de Melville) reveals the importance of Jean-Pierre Melville's personal experience in the French Resistance during World War II to his approach to filmmaking.[41][42]



  1. Breitbart, 180.
  2. "Jean-Pierre Melville".
  3. "Arbre". Retrieved 2014-08-12.
  4. Silence of the
  5. Silence of the
  6. "Jean-Pierre Melville: Life and Work of a Groundbreaking Filmmaking Poet • Cinephilia & Beyond". Cinephilia & Beyond. 2017-04-11. Retrieved 2018-06-18.
  7. Lane, Anthony (May 1, 2017). "Jean-Pierre Melville's Cinema of Resistance". The New Yorker.
  8. "Army of Shadows" (PDF). The Buffalo Film Seminars. October 2, 2007. Retrieved 2011-01-05.
  9. "Berlinale: Juries". Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  10. Bertrand Tessier, Jean-Pierre Melville le solitaire, foreword Philippe Labro, Fayard, Paris, 2017
  11. Vincendeau 2003, p. 222.
  12. Vincendeau 2003, p. 261.
  13. Vincendeau 2003, p. 223.
  14. Vincendeau 2003, p. 225.
  15. "Orphée (1949) Jean Cocteau" (in French). Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  16. Vincendeau 2003, p. 226.
  17. Vincendeau 2003, p. 227.
  18. Vincendeau 2003, p. 228.
  19. Vincendeau 2003, p. 229.
  20. "Mimi Pinson (1957) Robert Darène" (in French). Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  21. Vincendeau 2003, p. 230.
  22. "Breathless (1959) Jean-Luc Godard" (in French). Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  23. Vincendeau 2003, p. 231.
  24. Vincendeau 2003, p. 232.
  25. "Landru (1962) Claude Chabrol" (in French). Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  26. Vincendeau 2003, p. 233.
  27. Vincendeau 2003, p. 234.
  28. Vincendeau 2003, p. 236.
  29. Vincendeau 2003, p. 237.
  30. Vincendeau 2003, p. 238.
  31. Vincendeau 2003, p. 239.
  32. Vincendeau 2003, p. 242.
  33. Vincendeau 2003, p. 243.
  34. Vincendeau 2003, p. 244.
  35. Vincendeau 2003, p. 245.
  36. Vincendeau 2003, p. 246.
  37. Vincendeau 2003, p. 247.
  38. Vincendeau 2003, p. 248.
  39. Vincendeau 2003, p. 249.
  40. 11/23/2017, Biographie. Jean-Pierre Melville, le parrain
  41. "Cambridge Film Festival 2009". Archived from the original on 2009-09-30.
  42. "Cambridge Film Festival Reviews 2009". Archived from the original on 2011-07-20.


  • Bertrand Tessier "Jean-Pierre Melville, le solitaire", Editions Fayard, Paris, 2017. The first Jean-Pierre Melville's biography. "The resistance period is informed on a different way through unpublished documents" (Le monde)
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