Le Silence de la mer (1949 film)

Le Silence de la mer (English: The Silence of the Sea) is a 1949 film by Jean-Pierre Melville. It was Melville's first feature film, and was based on the 1942 book of the same name by Jean Bruller (published clandestinely under the pen name "Vercors"). The story, which takes place in 1941, concerns the relationship of a Frenchman (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stéphane) with a German lieutenant, Werner von Ebrennac (Howard Vernon), who occupies their house during the German occupation of France. The film was actually shot inside Bruller's own home outside of Paris.

Le Silence de la mer
Directed byJean-Pierre Melville
Screenplay byJean-Pierre Melville
Based onA novel
by Vercors[1]
Music byEdgar Bischoff[1]
CinematographyHenri Decaë[1]
Edited by
  • Jean-Pierre Melville
  • Henri Decaë[1]
Distributed byPierre Braunberger[1]
Release date
  • April 22, 1949 (1949-04-22) (Paris)
Running time
86 minutes[1]

The film has been described as an "anti-cinematographic" film due to the unique method of narration used to give voice to the (mostly) silent Frenchman and his niece.[2] It was made shortly after Melville was demobbed from the French Resistance and is one of several films made by Melville on the Resistance, along with Léon Morin, prêtre and L'armée des ombres.[3]

The film is coloured by Melville's own experience of the sacrifices and the painful moral intransigence that resistance demands. An unnamed Frenchman and his niece are obliged to provide lodgings for a German officer and register their resistance by refusing to speak to him. Maintaining their silence becomes harder as the officer, von Ebrennac, talks to them, and reveals a decency and his own doubts about the war. "He's clearly related to von Stroheim's sympathetic commandant in Renoir's La Grande Illusion, a figure whose loyalty is to something greater than nationalism. His unwilling hosts-[and] the echo chamber [of] their mute opposition makes him question both himself and his mission."[4]

"Melville made the film on a very small budget. It's a remarkably assured apprentice work. Melville and his cameraman Henri Decae show considerable cinematic technique: despite much of the film taking place in a single room, they avoid any sort of claustrophobia."[5] Von Ebrennac's monologues and the extensive voiceover mean that, the title notwithstanding, there is a significant amount of talk.


Le Silence de la mer was released in Paris on 22 April 1949.[1] In Paris, the film took in 464,032 admissions and 1,371,687 admissions in France as a whole.[6]


  1. Vincendeau 2003, p. 223.
  2. Batty, Adam (20 January 2011). "Culture Générale; Melville's Le Silence De La Mer". The Hope Lies. Archived from the original on 15 August 2011. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  3. The Criterion Collection (2013). "Jean-Pierre Melville". Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  4. Moviemail, July 2007 catalogue
  5. James Oliver, Moviemail, July 2007
  6. Vincendeau 2003, p. 260.


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