Review: Bob le flambeur (1956)

bob le flambeur

I’m not much for gambling, probably because I don’t have any money to bet in the first place!

Dialogue By: Auguste Le Breton
Directed By: Jean-Pierre Melville

It’s not the crime that does Bob in, it’s his willingness to fritter his life away. From the very start the character of Bob puts forth the image that he has everything under control. He makes money doing what he wants, he lives a good life, and he lives said life by a very specific code. There’s only a couple of moments during the entire film where we see him visibly lose control. I’d advise not focusing on those moments, to instead focus on the overall lie that is Bob’s life. He’s not in control, of anything or anyone. He allows his vices to control him, and he bends his code when it suits him. He never has enough money, and he lives his life in such a way that he will inevitably cause damage to those around him. Watching Bob le flambeur is watching a man who could have it all, but continually seeks to undermine himself.

Jean-Pierre Melville doesn’t hit his characters faults hard. Rather, he buries them in what appears on the surface to be a heist film. The first half of the film is spent setting up the world and the characters, while the second half appears to be focused on the heist. The setup of the heist is great stuff, I’m not about to deny that. However, as the heist draws nearer it becomes clear that the heist doesn’t really matter. It’s the characters, specifically Bob, and the choices they are making that matter. The way they live is no way to live, and that’s why the heist becomes almost a perfunctory matter. They won’t get away with it, we know they won’t get away with it, it’s just a matter of who will live, die, or end up in prison.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the voiceover narration that is peppered throughout the film. It pokes its head in every now and then but it never feels like it really belongs. I didn’t need the voiceover to tell me what was going on with Bob, the acting and the visuals were doing a bang up job of letting me know all I needed to about the lead character. At first I was ready to also take the film to task for the way it handles its female characters. However, to do so would lose sight of this film being styled as a man’s tale where women are kept in the background. I eventually read it that the reason the men suffer the fate they do is because they are willing to keep their women in the background, or in one case not include them in their life.

Bob le flambeur is not my first film from Monsieur Melville, nor will it be my last. With each film of his I respect Monsieur Melville as a director even more. He has a style that is easy to love and a way of telling his stories that is downright dastardly. Bob le flambeur is a tense film, full of character and consequence. Bob le flambeur is a classic for a reason, and I’m happy to join all the people who have been calling it a classic for years now.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

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2 responses to “Review: Bob le flambeur (1956)

  1. While it’s not a Melville film, I think you’d like Touchez pas au Grisbi, with Jean Gabin. It’s in the same mold, and IIRC, there’s no narration.

  2. I’ll have to add that to my always growing “To Watch” list, thanks. :)

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