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The Criterion Collection presents

Le deuxième souffle (1966)

"You know where I came from, and what's waiting for me."- Gu (Lino Ventura)

Stars: Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 02h:30m:01s
Release Date: 2008-10-07
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-B-B B


DVD Review

After all those seasons of The Sopranos, and a raft of mob movies, like The Sopranos, undoing the myths foisted on us, of the tortured gangster, it can be hard to take Jean-Pierre Melville's Le deuxième souffle at face value. (The title translates roughly as "Second Wind.") It plays out as a sort of opera, and you don't have to be overly jaundiced to giggle, almost, at how seriously Melville takes this all, and at how grandly self-important all the people in his film are. (Michael Mann can fall prey to the same weakness; it is, for me, the undoing of an endless film like Heat.) Still, a film with this sense of grandeur merits a healthy amount of respect—there's no doubt that it's finely made, but it does quite frequently feel a little preposterous.

Lino Ventura stars as Gustave Minda, who has just escaped from prison for a legendary heist a decade ago; we're pretty much kept in the dark about the details, as there's a restlessness in Melville's criminals that doesn't allow for much self-reflection, let alone pensive moments of recollection. A mobster known as Jacques the Lawyer is gunned down in a nightclub, and it's clear immediately that this is a cold and calculating hit, and not simply a bit of impetuous, ill-planned payback. But the investigating officers cannot prove as much, and Gu is reunited with his sister, the coolly cerebral Manouche, who seems less a gun moll and more a cold-blooded operator, in the tradition of Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate.

Melville clearly has a taste for the existential and the absurdist—with character names like Gu and Blot (the chief inspector), it sometimes sounds as if we're in a late-period Beckett play, Endgame with guns, or something. There are some absolutely extraordinary sequences in the picture, without question—the most notable would have to be the central heist, a 200-million-franc job that's too sweet for Gu to resist, even though he's hot as blazes. It's kinetic and tense and visual, Melville at his best, sort of both a tribute to and a conscious attempt to outdo Rififi. But other scenes make you feel as if you're in some sort of noir echo chamber, scenes that bear little or no relationship to real life, or even to the story, but are there simply to conjure up the mood of the gangster pictures so close to Melville's heart.

Titles pop up with date, time and location, alerting us that we're barreling toward the inevitable and unpleasant climax—it's a familiar noir device, maybe most famous from Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. And the odd brother/sister relationship is in many respects at the heart of it all—there's something a bit untoward and overly intimate about their relationship, and he seems at other times ready to pimp out Manouche, who understands the power she can exercise over men. Her interactions with Blot are especially charged and dangerous. (Christine Fabréga is beautiful and ice cold in the role.) But it's also unquestionably an excessively long picture—it clocks in at two and a half hours not because it's got a tremendous amount of ground to cover, but because it's a little too in love with or impressed with itself.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: An occasionally muddy transfer, from a source print that seems to be wildly variable—some sequences look close to pristine, while others (for some reason, the nightclub scenes particularly) are much more problematic.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Melville uses music sparingly, which is a testament to his storytelling skills; it also highlights the presence of a good amount of hiss on the mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ginette Vincendeau and Geoff Andrew
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet
  2. color bars
Extras Review: Melville scholar Ginette Vincendeau and film critic Geoff Andrew provide a chatty, full-length commentary track—they're both well versed in all things Melville, and helpfully compare the film to the novel on which it's based. Vincendeau is especially interesting on critical reception to the director's work—he seems to have been occasionally derided in France for being too American, and largely misunderstood by or over the heads of his contemporary American audiences.

Two 1966 pieces from French television were pegged to the film's release—the first (4m:00s) is a report from the set, and the second (25m:51s) features Melville, hiding behind dark glasses, in a more extensive promotional interview. As he did on the Criterion release of Le doulos, Bertrand Tavernier discusses (11m:36s) his time with Melville as a publicist, and doesn't shy away from tales of sparring with the great man, apparently a necessary part of one's Melville apprenticeship. The accompanying booklet features an essay on the film by Adrian Danks; also, the running time listed on the back of the case is a good six minutes short.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

Cut from the same bolt of cloth as Melville's other crime pictures, this one can be a bit too ponderous and goes on rather too long, but there's still a whole lot here that's sleek and smart and dark.

Jon Danziger 2008-10-13