Le deuxième souffle

Another film by Meville (the title translates as The Second Wind, as in another chance) with some new turns by the cast in Army of Shadows.  This one is about the world of gangsters, but its tone is not much different from that of his drama of the French WWII resistance, and the theme of honor and loyalty to comrades is important to both.

Lino Ventura plays Gustave ‘Gu’ Minda, a very tough thug whom we meet at the opening in the midst of a silent jailbreak.  One man falls to his death:  no one bats an eye.  The only thing that gets Gu excited is the notion that he might be a rat, and the not-too-bright police chief, Fardiano, spreads the story that Gu informed in order to drive him crazy, and maybe to talk.  Eventually, Gu exacts a terrible revenge that includes a signed statement that he did not inform on his mates to be delivered to the newspapers.  His honor among fellow thieves is his

life.  Even the Machiavellian police inspector, Commissaire Brot, grants him his due – after nabbing him  – by allowing the letters to be given to the newspaper.  Brot is always just a little closer to his prey than we expect in a big league Parisian policeman.

The glamor in the story radiates from Manouche, whom we, or at least I, thought was a love interest of Gu’s at first.  She is brought to his hideout for an elegant dinner, for which another thug brings Gu the proper attire.  They embrace on meeting, but we don’t see their faces, so it’s not obvious if their lips are meeting.  Most of the summaries I see of this film assume that they are engaged, or lovers, but later in the story, she is introduced as Gu’s sister.  During dinner, she says,  “We’ve been crooks since we were kids (les gosses)”.  Melville certainly is intrigued by mystified sibling relationships – a key element of the plot of Army of Shadows.

Here’s a post from another blog where the writer observes:

Manouche ( Christine Fabréga ) runs a chic Parisian restaurant, she is very concerned when she learns of Gus’s escape. Is she his girlfriend? An ex-lover? No, she is in fact his sister and their relationship is an intriguing and unique one.

In Melville by Rui Nogueria, Melville says that in French gangster slang “sister” is a term for girlfriend.  I believe Manouche is really Gu’s sister but the implied incest adds a compelling dimension to their relationship and Melville says “If I’ve let it be understood that Manouche is Gu’s sister, it’s because of the Enfants Terribles part of me- or rather because of the great homonyms Pierre or the Ambiguities.”

Jean-Pierre Melville (born Jean-Pierre Grumbach) using one of  Melville’s lesser-known novels to dispel ambiguity – what a rabbit hole to go down!

The film is based on a novel by the author who wrote the story of Le Trou.

3 Responses to Le deuxième souffle

  1. Guy Savage says:

    There’s a recent remake of this with Daniel Auteuil. Critics panned it–I loved it. Available on Amazon if you have an all-region player.

  2. fredfitch says:

    I’ve been trying to figure this out myself–and the best explanation I can think of is that they grew up under the same roof as brother and sister, but are not blood relatives. They are most definitely lovers, whether related or not (look at the way she dresses for him, and the trouble he goes to with the dinner and his personal grooming). That kiss is not the kind siblings normally exchange.

    Honestly, given the kind of life they lead, why would this be the most shocking thing in the world, if they were blood relations having sex? I think Melville deliberately leaves it a bit vague. All we need to know is that each is the whole world to the other.

    Melville and Jose Giovanni would both be familiar with David Goodis, the Philadelphia-based crime writer, whose books were all published in France under the Serie Noire imprint.

    In Goodis’ novel “The Burglar” (very loosely adapted into a French movie starring Jean Paul Belmondo), the title character was an orphan, raised by a professional thief, learned his trade from him. His foster father’s daughter was a very pretty blonde girl, who fell in love with her adoptive brother. He loves her too, is attracted to her, but for him, the incest taboo is in effect. He promised her old man he’d take care of her, before the man died. So he can’t separate himself from her, nor can he sleep with her, much as she wants him to. It’s a Goodis thing. The more you want something, the more you can’t have it.

    The incest theme, usually involving a blonde girl, can be found in a few other Goodis novels, notably “Of Tender Sin” which isn’t a crime novel.

    So whether this came from Giovanni or Melville, I think that’s where it comes from. It’s an homage, of sorts. Goodis influenced basically everybody in France who worked in this genre in the 50’s and 60’s.

    The Burglar was published in 1953, Giovanni’s novel in 1958. Love to read it. Wish somebody would translate it.

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