Bob Le Flambeur

07.06.09 | Comment?

I bow to no one in my love for French director Jean-Pierre Melville, but I didn’t care much for Bob Le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler, or Bob the High Roller). While the techical aspects are not up to the standards of his later work (mostly due to the miniscule budget and improvised filmmaking), it’s the general feeling that I didn’t go for.

Melville’s later works are almost clinical in their detachment from the characters, observing them without making much of a judgement. But in this film, Bob is presented as a very sympathetic character, sort of the kindly uncle of the criminal class. He used to be a thief, a bank robber, but after a few years in Le Grand Chateau he went straight, and stayed that way for 20 years.

Now, after a run of bad luck, he’s flat broke and without prospects. Then he hears that the safe in the Deauville casino sometimes contains as much as 800 million francs…

Throughout the film we see his kindness to others. He’s friends with a policeman whose life he once saved by knocking aside a pistol just as the man behind it pulled the trigger. We see him hanging around a diner, and learn that he loaned the woman behind the counter the money to open it. We see his friendship with young Paolo, son of a former colleague.

And we see the way he picks up Anne, who’s well on her way to becoming a streetwalker, and installs her in his apartment. But not for himself – instead, he practically pushes her into Paolo’s arms, doing something for both of them.

For lack of a better word, the film is romantic, not in the sense that it’s a love story, but in the way it views Bob’s character. What’s most powerful in Melville’s later films is the blank-faced fatalism of his main characters. Do they feel things, sometimes powerfully? Yes, but they don’t let it show. Bob wears his heart on his sleeve, and honestly, it makes him a little less interesting.

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