Jean-Pierre Melville


Biography of Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville, born Jean-Pierre Grumbach (October 20, 1917 – August 2, 1973), was a French filmmaker. 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. He kept it as his stage name once the war was over.

Jean-Pierre Grumbach was born in Paris, France, to an ethnic Jewish Alsatian family.

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.

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.

He became well known for his tragic, minimalist film noir crime dramas, such as Le Doulos (1962), Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1969), 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 '40s, he used accessories such as weapons, clothes (trench coats), and fedora hats, to shape a characteristic look in his movies.

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.

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.

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

Melville died in Paris in 1973 from a heart attack at the age of 55.

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