Thursday, April 07, 2016
Le silence de la mer
Based on the novel by Vecors (Jean Bruller), Le silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) is the story of a German officer who has been assigned to stay at the home of a man and his niece during Germany’s occupation of France in World War II. Written for the screen, co-edited, and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, the film is an exploration into power and resistance where a man tries to instill his power in the home of two people who are resisting him. Starring Howard Vernon, Nicole Stephane, and Jean-Marie Robain. Le silence de la mer is a chilling yet rapturous film from Jean-Pierre Melville.
Set in 1941 in a small town in France during Germany’s occupation of the country during World War II, the film is a simple story of a German officer who has been assigned to stay at the home of an old man and his niece. While he would engage with them through monologues, the old man and his niece choose to be silent in an act of resistance. Even as he tries to approach through conversation where he at first tries to instill a sense of his power but as the story progresses. It is shown that he is just a normal man that actually loves France as he becomes nostalgia for bits of his past but becomes uneasy about what his country wants to do with the country as a whole as it adds a sense of conflict from within.
The film’s script is largely told by this old man (Jean-Marie Robain) as he speaks largely through voiceover narration as he reflects on his time during the occupation where he disapproves the presence of Lt. Werner von Ebrennac (Howard Vernon) only to realize that he is just as human as everyone else. The usage of voice-over narrative and the monologues of von Ebrennac adds to the tension that looms throughout the film but also with a sense of longing for a peaceful resolution as the only other character in the story is the niece (Nicole Stephane) who rarely speaks either in dialogue or in voiceover as she is just this observer that really dislikes von Ebrennac.
Jean-Pierre Melville’s direction is very mesmerizing for not just the fact that it is set almost entirely in the actual house where the book was based on. It’s also in the fact that he would maintain something that feels very real in its tension and intimacy in how these characters would interact together in the same room. While Melville would also do some shooting in the town and in parts of Paris for a sequence where von Ebrennac takes a tour of the city. Much of Melville’s work is set in the house where he uses a lot of medium shots to capture the intimacy and tension that looms throughout. Even as he creates some unique camera angles from above or below to play into that intimacy and whether the old man and his niece would say something or find a way to antagonize von Ebrennac.
Editing the film with cinematographer Henri Dacae, Melville would create these slow rhythms in playing up the tension while utilizing some stylish transition wipes for the scenes where von Ebrennac takes a tour of Paris as it would play into his own fascination for the country. The tour would also include some flashbacks as well as key moment in the film’s climax about the realities of war and occupation that von Ebrennac must deal with. It’s in the moment where the close-ups do come into play as well as a sense of melancholia as it relates to not just what the French had to endure during that awful period of occupation but also in the fact that there were Germans who did have some humanity as they questioned about the moralities of war. Overall, Melville crafts a fascinating and haunting film about a German officer living with a French family during Germany’s occupation of France in World War II.
Cinematographer Henri Dacae does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the way it creates a sense of mood for many of the nighttime scenes set at the den inside the house along with some naturalistic lighting for some of the film‘s exterior scenes in the day. The costumes by Traonuez are quite nice for not just the look of the uniforms but also in what von Ebrennac wears at the house as it showcases where he comes from as opposed to the more quaint, rural look of his inhabitants. The sound work of Jacques Carre is terrific for being very naturalistic in its setting as well as playing into the tension inside the room with the three main characters. The film’s music by Edgar Bischoff is fantastic for its orchestral-based score that plays into some of the drama for some of von Ebrennac’s stories along with more upbeat pieces for scenes set during his tour of Paris.
The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Denis Sadier as a friend of von Ebrennac in Paris, Georges Patrix as a servant for von Ebrennac who would appear from time to time, and Ami Aaroe as his former fiancee whom he reflects on during his time in France before the war. Nicole Stephane is amazing as the niece who spends much of her time cooking and sewing in silence as she appears uncomfortable around von Ebrennac as she rarely says anything to express her disdain towards him. Jean-Marie Robain is excellent as the old man who copes with von Ebrennac’s presence as he reflects, via voiceover narration, about what is happening as well as dealing with von Ebrennac. Finally, there’s Howard Vernon in an incredible performance as Lt. Werner von Ebrennac as a German officer who is assigned to live in the home of a rural French family as he tries to instill his presence only to reveal sides of himself that display a sense of humanity he struggles to carry amidst the chaos of war as well as what his country’s plans are for not just France but Europe itself.
Le silence de la mer is a phenomenal film from Jean-Pierre Melville. Thanks in part to a great cast, a chilling premise, and a calm yet eerie presentation, the film isn’t just a study of life during Germany’s occupation of France but also a study of humanity within that period from both sides. In the end, Le silence de la mer is a remarkable film from Jean-Pierre Melville.
Jean-Pierre Melville Films: (Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d’un clown) - Les Enfants terribles - Bob le flambeur - (Quand tu liras cette lettre) - (Two Men in Manhattan) - (Leon Morin, Priest) - (Le Doulos) - (Magnet of Doom) - (Le deuxieme souffle) - Le samourai - (Army of Shadows) - Le Cercle rouge - (Un flic)
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