Birth of Jean-Pierre GRUMBACH on October 20th in Paris.
At 6 years old, his parents give him a Pathé-Baby camera as a present. He starts filming everything he possibly can: his family, his friends, the streets etc.
Jean-Pierre has just turned 16. He sees Frank Lloyd’s film Cavalcade. It reinforces his decision: he will be a director!
Jean-Pierre juggles between small jobs and his devouring passion for movies (he often sees five a day) until he is called to perform military service.
It’s World War II. Jean-Pierre Grumbach, who has just completed his military service, joins the armed forces. When the armistice is signed, he joins the resistance in order to continue fighting the Germans.
He crosses the Pyrenees mountains on foot to reach Spain and embark in Gibraltar in order to join the General de Gaulle’s Free French Forces and continue the fight. He adopts the pseudonym of MELVILLE.
At the end of hostilities, General de Gaulle himself decorates Jean-Pierre for “acts of war” since he had fought during the military campaigns of Africa, Italy and France. Jean-Pierre Melville can finally return to Paris.
Since he never studied at film school, he is declined a card of “Assistant Director.” Nevertheless, true to his vocation, without any help and without any cinematic experience — if only a colossal memory of the hundreds of films watched during all these years — he produces and directs his first low-budget short film: 24 hours in a Clown’s Life.
He adapts and directs Vercors’ novel Le Silence de la Mer under some unbelievable conditions. Everything was unusual about that film. Its schedule: it was shot over 27 days in the course of a year with unknown actors; Its production: a skeleton crew filmed many scenes “on-location” without permits; Its provenance: the film was adapted from a book before Vercors’ consent was even obtained; Its style: dark and claustrophobic; Its editing done in an hotel room. Melville’s production and filming methods influence the French “Nouvelle Vague” film movement.
Jean Cocteau asks Melville to direct Les Enfants Terribles.
Melville buys a warehouse 25 bis rue Jenner in the 13th district of Paris, and transforms it into a film studio. He will direct 6 films there, until a huge fire destroys the studio during the shooting of Le Samourai on June 29, 1967.
Fervent admirer of the American cinema, Melville directs Bob le Flambeur. It becomes a cult movie and his influence keeps growing with the “Nouvelle Vague” cinematographers.
Deux Hommes dans Manhattan, another masterpiece of Melville, also becomes a cult movie. He directs himself in one of the two leading roles.
Melville meets Jean-Paul Belmondo and films with him Léon Morin Prêtre. They will reunite in two other movies: Le Doulos (1962) and L’Ainé des Ferchaux (1963).
With Le Doulos, Melville takes its rise in the film noir genre. Le Doulos will soon become a classic of its kind.
“L’Ainé des Ferchaux” is adapted from a Simenon novel.
After 3 years away from the limelight, Melville directs Le Deuxième Souffle with Lino Ventura. He will work with the actor again in 1969 on the movie L’Armée des Ombres.
Le Samouraï with Alain Delon becomes one of the classics of cinema history, and marks a turning point as far as international thrillers are concerned.
The French Resistance in an atmosphere of tension, paranoia, and distrust. An army made of shadows, of nameless heroes ready to die for their country. Another cult movie for Jean-Pierre Melville.
Melville gives Bourvil his last role in Le Cercle Rouge. The movie will be his biggest box-office success and will become a cult movie around the world.
Un Flic with Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve is Melville’s last film. This abstract, bare-style masterwork is visually a magnificent movie to watch. Unconsciously, Melville has signed his legacy work.