Le Silence de la Mer (1949) Poster

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Wonderful debut
Prof-Hieronymos-Grost13 November 2007
In a small town in occupied France, the tranquil life of the occupants of a country house (an uncle and his niece) is disturbed when a new German officer, Lieutenant Werner Von Ebrennac is billeted and takes up residence in their home. Not wanting to be seen to be collaborating with the enemy they both agree not to let the foreign presence interfere with their everyday life and to this end they even refuse to acknowledge their new guest when he speaks to them. Von Ebrennac a musician and budding composer understands their stubbornness and each night he joins them in their living room and regales them with his stories, on topics such as his love of France, the influence of his father, the war and his passion for music, all of his thoughts and questions go unanswered by the uncle and his niece, he puffs on his pipe while she continues to knit, all the time never making eye contact with their unwanted guest. Privately they both seem to have a growing respect for Von Ebrennac,a learned, romantic and cultured man who imparts his knowledge of French literature with a vitality that can't help but enthuse the listener, he even resorts to wearing civilian clothes in order that his hosts feel more comfortable in his presence.

After the fall of France to the occupying Nazi's, Jean Pierre Melville who fought in the famous battle of Dunkirk found himself demobbed from the French military and subsequently ended up in London where he tried to do his part for the French Resistance, it was there that his love of Cinema gave him his first inkling of what his first project would be, he wanted to adapt the infamous and iconic Resistance book, La Silence de la Mer by Vercors, After the war Melville approached Vercors looking for his permission to adapt his work, which was denied. Despite this setback Melville set out to make the film anyway, another problem that beset him was that he had no Cinematic training and in the highly regulated and unionised France this was going to be a sticking point if the film was going to be made, but his determination fuelled the project and soon Vercors was on board, after Melville made him an offer that the film would never be released unless it was accepted by an esteemed Resistance audience at a private screening and if it didn't compromise his book, of course the film was widely accepted with only one vote against. Melville strived for authenticity and even used Vercors' own home for the filming and also employed actors that had been in the Resistance.

Jean-Marie Robain plays the Uncle and his voice is for the most part only heard in voice-over, both he and Nicole Stéphane's (the Niece) performances by their nature have to be very subdued and all emotion is shown with but the slightest of glances and hardly any movement. Vernon has nearly all the on screen speaking parts and the film is broken up into his ever more emotive musings on life that border on soliloquy and its his performance that holds together the film, when after a brief trip to Paris to meet some old friends, he returns devastated in the knowledge of the atrocities that are to happen and that have been happening, he must now admit to his hosts that his interpretations of his countries ideals have been erroneous. A sublime debut from Melville that influenced many of his fellow countrymen, like Bresson, Truffaut and Godard, with but the slightest hint of what direction his career would take, his gathering together of first timers succeeded in creating a film that bucked many of the filmic trends of the day and as such helps retain its freshness and power even today.
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adieu my love
luckysilien8 June 2004
France 1942. Jean Pierre Grumbach alias Melville is away in London with General de Gaulle. France is occupied by the German nazi swastika. Jean Bruller, actually an illustrator, writes a novel 'LE SILENCE DE LA MERE', which is published by the underground 'Edition de Minuit'. Bruller calls himself Vercors. On Feb. 22, 1942 the book is ready to be issued and distributed in Paris by messengers on bicycles.

Melville first read the novel in English. He reports, that he was absolutely determined, that it would be his first film. He returned to France and negotiates with Vercors to buy the rights for his resistance novel. Vercors refused to let Melville have it. The book had virtually served as a Bible during the war and had become part of the French national heritage. Finally Vercors and Melville make a deal: The future famous director guarantees to submit the film as soon as it was finished to a jury of resistant selected by Vercors. Should one single member of this Jury be opposed to the film being shown, Melville promised to burn the negative.

The trouble was, that Melville was unqualified professionally, had no union card and in fact not obtained the rights to the book. Still, the director of the GTC laboratories Colling encouraged Melville and did the chemical work for nothing and the later famous lighting cameraman Henri Decae was the operator of the hired and not so well working equipment. The film was made in Vercors own house and Howard Vernon, a German (Swiss?) starred, as well as a friend of Melvilles Jean-Marie Robain, a wartime comrade, and a family friend Nicole Stéphane, whose profile and limpid eyes Melville loved and who was according to him a Rothschild, what the CGT didn't like so much.

What is it all about ? Uncle (Robain) and his niece ( Stéphane) live together in a house outside some village that is occupied by the Germans (and drink expensive coffee all the time). They have to tolerate a German lieutenant (Vernon), who comes to live upstairs and has a bad leg and who works in the Commandantur. He is a well educated composer of music and has never been to France, though he has traveled the world – except France. When he after work comes back to the uncle-niece couple (he sucking a pipe, she knitting) he knocks at the door and speaks (mostly in his German uniform) in French to the owners of the house, who never answer to him or comment on his statements, explanations, ideas, longings, who never say good night. They are just listening to him.

What is the lieutenant speaking and dreaming of ? He imagines the genius of German music and the greatness of French literature being united in a peaceful Europe. One day our lieutenant Werner decides to go to Paris, that he avoided a long time. The opera like action inside the (Vercors) house is now taken to open air Paris, Vernon with his officers cap is a tourist in front of several well known Paris Buildings and we watch him attending a party of officers, who wise Ebrennac up, that they never intended to respect the French culture or let it at least exist as it is. They make clear that the occupation has just one aim, finish the French for once and for all times. Ebrennac looses all hope, returns to the cottage of uncle and niece, packs his luggage and reports to them what he had heard in the officers Club in Paris. He decides to go back to the front. He leaves the house and this is the time, when the niece says just one word: Adieu.

Certainly the film has an anti-cinematographic aspect and there is little action. But you watch every minute with growing interest how the relationship between the three is developing. There are simple means, two or three walls, a ceiling, a door, a uniform, a ball of wool, a flickering fireside and the over and over repeated greeting of the officer, that he wishes a good night. Are we even witnessing a quiet love affair ? It is probably not in the book, but I like to accept that idea, sympathy for the devil. (Andre Gide: I think the girl was a fool. She deserved to be spanked.)

The film is full of fine details. All of them put splendidly by Decae into a black and white photography as if that sort of film was just freshly invented. The church at the horizon (where would that be ?) behind a field of corn and the forgoing panning shot followed by a slow pan toward a gun barrel. The scene when the lieutenant and his corporal cross a bridge and three French occupy the sidewalk and don't move a single inch. The group of officers caps on the table at the soiree, the perfect focus in the kitchen (Gregg Toland's way) and the nice scarf of the niece towards the end, which looks like decorated by Jean Cocteau, but was drawn by Melville himself, who greatly admired Cocteaus work. Its all much more than just a first film of a future independent film maker.

Melville tells us, making the film was the happiest year in his life. Decae and Melville did the editing from 35 mm rushes in a hotel room. They projected on to the wall. They filmed in total penury. After putting an original music to the film (cost as much as the whole film, 120 musicians) in October 1948 the film was first screened at the studio des Champs-Elysees, in the presence of a top-drawer audience. Now at last Pierre Braunberger came in and managed to persuade Melville to give him the film. It did well at the box office.

And thanks to young Howard Vernon, who passed away only recently at the age of 82. And Cocteau thought the mentioned scarf was a work of his.

Michael Zabel, Offenbach/Rodenbach
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Melville's first film, a classic and innovative work in the history of cinema
robert-temple-16 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This film is famous for several reasons, all of them valid. The film is based upon a novel by Jean Marcel Bruller (1902-1991), writing under the pen name of 'Vercors'. The novel appeared in 1942 and was circulated secretly throughout France by the Resistance, at great danger to the lives of all concerned, under the noses of the occupying Nazis, and it became a classic work of defiance of the oppressor. Jean-Pierre Melville, who had never made a film and did not even know how, decided after the War that he had to film this story. He completed the film in 1946 and it was finally released in 1949. He shot the film in the novelist's own house for the sake of authenticity. It was half-financed by Nicole Stéphane (1923-2007), later an actress, whose first film appearance this was, as the niece. She was apparently related to the Rothschilds and thus part Jewish. She later acted in six further films, including Melville's film of Jean Cocteau's LES ENFANTS TERRIBLE (1950) and she played Marie Curie in MONSIEUR ET MADAME CURIE (1956), retiring as an actress in 1958. After that, she was producer of six films, commencing with the famous and politically provocative MOURIR À MADRID (1963) and ending with a TV film in 1988. In this film, she speaks only four words, despite being a leading player, but her performance is superb nevertheless. The story concerns the enforced billeting of a German army officer in 1942 in the country house of an elderly man (played by Jean-Marie Robain, puffing imperturbably on a pipe) and his young niece (Stéphane). They adopt an attitude of passive resistance, by never speaking to the German officer. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the film is the truly remarkable performance of Howard Vernon as the officer. The story is based upon a real experience in that same house by the author of the novel. The officer is a highly-refined and cultured Francophile, who likes to refer to all the famous French authors, even the Jewish author Proust, with affectionate regard. He sits down at one point and beautifully plays a Prelude by J. S. Bach. All of these scenes take place in the drawing room of the house, where the officer delivers long monologues to his hosts, and to which they never reply. He opens his heart to them and tells them of his deep and abiding love for France and French culture, of his passionate belief that the German Occupation will bring a wonderful and indeed a mystical union between the two cultures. His eyes glow with fervent idealism as he says these things. He explains that he always refused to join the Nazi Party, which is why he is only a Lieutenant in the Wehrmacht instead of a high officer, as he is well into middle age. Vernon's character is based upon a mixture of the real officer who was billeted in the house and the highly-cultured author, Captain Ernst Jünger, who was based in an administrative role in Paris during the Occupation. Jünger (1895-1998) lived to the extraordinary age of 103, and was author of many famous novels such as ON THE MARBLE CLIFFS (1939) and THE GLASS BEES (1957). Forty years after the War, he published a novel about Paris during the Occupation entitled A DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER, which I have read and did not think was particularly successful. His diaries of the period in Paris are also published as GARDENS AND STREETS (1942, never translated into English). During his time in Paris, the intensely Francophile and anti-Nazi (though otherwise very right-wing) Jünger fraternized with people such as Jean Cocteau. Jünger and the officer billeted with Vercors were both idealistic and old-fashioned conservative officers of the regular German Army, known as the Wehrmacht, who tended to be highly cultured and not in sympathy with the lowbrow Nazis, whom they often despised. It was these people, such as my own distant cousin James von Moltke (executed by the Nazis), who plotted against Hitler and tried to assassinate him. The performance of Vernon shows the officer displaying the most perfect and impeccable manners, bowing to his hosts and wishing them good night and confiding in them with almost reckless abandon about his hopes and fears. They never respond until the end of the film. He even tells them he admires them and understands their behaviour. But the turning point of the story comes when he visits Paris, which he has longed to do all his life. After seeing the famous monuments and soaking in the incomparable atmosphere of the world's most wonderful capital city, he then pays a visit to his childhood friend at a headquarters office where he is serving as an SS officer. As we all know, or should know, the Wehrmacht was one thing, but the SS was quite another. He is utterly horrified to learn of an extermination camp called Treblinka. (This mention of Treblinka, actually chronologically impossible for him to have learned about in 1942, was inserted into the script by Melville, who was Jewish, and did not appear in the novel.) The discussion of Treblinka occurs in German, and in the original French release of the film, it was not translated by any French subtitles. Vernon's SS friend then goes on to boast about how the Nazis intend to destroy French culture root and branch, as decadent and un-German. This totally shatters Vernon and destroys all his idealistic illusions about his role. He returns to the house in the country and tells his hosts of this terrible experience and these monstrous revelations, hoping for some glimmer of sympathy from them at his disillusionment and the horror of what he has learned. But they just look at him silently. The DVD contains an interview by cinéaste Ginette Vincendeau, as well as a lengthy printed booklet by her.
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A different kind of Nazi
kdunn918 October 2014
A sympathetic Nazi? Well, yes, but not for any reason you may suspect. Lieutenant Werner Von Ebrennac, a German officer, is ordered to billet in the home of a man and his niece living alone in a small house in France. Ebrennac, a refined and sophisticated intellectual, seems to believe that politeness will compensate for the the insult of forced occupancy--it does not. The uncle and his niece maintain a complete silence for the many months of the occupation. Ebrennac, a Francophile, deluded by the idea that the German occupation of France will become a harmonious union of two great European nations, is stunned. Later, Ebrennac, crushed when his colleagues disabuse him of his naiveté, requests transfer to the front lines. His request is approved. A different and very interesting WW2 movie well worth the time of any serious student of the Second World War.
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One Of The Best Debuts Of All Time!
DexIMF11 September 2013
"Le Silence De La Mer" is a film based on the novel of the same name written by Jean Bruller which was published secretly in Nazi-occupied France. The film plays like a video-book of the novel as most of the story is told either through narration or monologues. The film's such patience-testing style is quickly suggested by its opening scene which plays as if it literally drops the viewer inside the novel.

The film is told through two point of views. An old french man, who lives with his niece, and seems to be quite content with wealth and art. The other viewpoint is the Nazi soldier who stays in their house for a quite period of time. The key to delve into the former's mind is by his narration, and the latter's is by his monologues. It's an interesting dynamic which really shines and gets its point across over the course of time.

"Le Silence De La Mer" is Melville's debut feature, and it's fascinating how clear he is about the subject and style of the film. It's no wonder that his later films grew to be even more tightly constructed.

The film opens with lines which suggest that the feature is in no way constructed to present as a solution to conflict between France and Germany, but I'm sure both Bruller and Melville, and the rest of us would have wondered, "..but what if?".
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Simple and powerful
spechax19 January 1999
I am surprised that this movie is so little known (I must confess I did not know much about it either when I first went to see it). I think it is one of the best movies made in Europe in the first years after the WW2. It is quiet and simple, but very powerful at the same time. Without any killing or death in it, this film shows the absurdness and tragedy of war better than any other I have seen. At the same time, for me this was a very good insight in the spirit of French resistance. But above all, it is about a collapse of dreams, a conflict between one's conscience and ideology, and a realisation of how senseless human feelings, aspirations and the whole existence is made by the war. Very deep and impressive. I felt like crying at the end.
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an unusual, stagey resistance film that gets better/more intriguing as it goes
Quinoa198428 December 2015
Here's the set-up: an uncle and his niece (the latter Nicole Stephane, who would appear as the female lead in Melville's follow-up Les Enfants Terribles) are living in a small town in France and it's the early part of the war in 1941. A German officer is wounded and has to spend some time to heal (not serious enough for a hospital it would seem, but not strong enough to fight yet), and immediately things are tense as the French citizens refuse to say a word or even look up - their own form of silence as protest - but he doesn't mind.

Officer Werner von Ebrancc in fact will talk to them or, perhaps, in a way, to himself without any regard. For the most part, with maybe just one or two minor exceptions, we only hear the uncle in voice-over. Lots and lots of voice-over, narrating about things that we see on screen and what the officer's silence holds over moments, or when he does things like play the harmonium - a melody that his niece hasn't played in years. So much significance in six months or so of this man just *being* there. What will they do? Will communication finally happen vocally, or with physical gestures and things like hands?

I imagine it'll be the same for those who come to La Silence de la Mer that admirers (does one say fans perhaps) of Jean-Pierre Melville's other films, primarily his 60's crime thrillers or the other WW2 resistance epic Army of Shadows: this does not really seem very much like those later movies. In 'Silence', it's got wall-to-wall musical score for one thing by Edgar Bischoff; not a bad score by any means, but it is strange and sometimes the music is accompanying one of the many monologues delivered by the German soldier Werner, which is in contrast to many of Melville's films which lack music in favor of silence. And there is a great deal of narration from the French uncle (just credited as 'L'Oncle' played Robain) which is also in contrast with Melville's style. So it was a little jarring to come to his first film after seeing so many - this doesn't make it a bad thing, just different and unexpected.

The context always matters of course: this was made very soon after the end of the second world war, which Melville fought in and was part of the French resistance. The film's adapted from a book, which is pretty clear by not only the framing (like a Cocteau film of Beauty and the Beast, which gets checked here in reference by the way by Werner, it opens and ends with a book on screen), and it was a book that was kind of an underground release. Melville even adapted it without the rights, something that would almost make it a "fan-film" today, though Vecors liked it enough to let it see release following approval from a 'jury' (see the trivia). But the point is that the film must have been something important to see in France at the time, part of France looking back at what had happened to them, what they allowed, and of course the fervent, dastardly German/Nazi mind-set, and take some steps to move forward.

The narration may be too much at times (it's part of Melville's 'anti-cinematic' aesthetic in relation to adapting a book to the tee), and at first I was bothered by it. It made the film seem old and dated. But as the film went on and I got more into Vernon's performance, it seemed to make more sense about the tension and how, step by step, incrementally, there's a connection made between these very disparate characters. I also liked the last half hour where we see Werner outside of the house and at German HQ or talking with fellow officers and the contrast of his own awakening to culture and French artistic expression with the dogmatic nature of Nazism. It's even a braze and courageously made movie ultimately for how it posits the French civilians like these two (not so much characters but apt props for the narrative) and Werner, who is fleshed out and conflicted and kind of a tragic figure. It's a film the more I think about it I like more, even as it's not as impressive as Melville's later crime films. For what he had to work with (clearly a low budget, mostly shot in the house), Melville gets a lot out of his imagery and slow-build up.
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"It pains me to offend anyone,even if he is my enemy."
morrison-dylan-fan12 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Entranced by his sadly near-forgotten 1953 title When You Read This Letter,I was intrigued to find out from a fellow IMDber that DVD company Masters of Cinema had put out a DVD/Blu-Ray of auteur Jean- Pierre Melville's feature debut,which led to me listening to the silence.

The plot-

France 1941:

Wanting to not get too caught up in the Resistance battle against the Nazi Occupation,a man and his grown-up niece try to follow their daily routines. Crushing their will,the Nazi generals order them to take Werner von Ebrennac in as a "guest" who will come home after a long day working for the Führer. Whilst they have no say in him staying there,the man and the woman decide to stage a silent protest against him,which leads to Ebrennac filling the silence by exploring his most intimate feelings on the war and his love of the occupied country.

View on the film:

Offering an interesting booklet and detailed docs as extras,Masters of Cinema give an amazing transfer,with the audio and the visuals being pin-sharp,whilst retaining the natural grit from the film.

Saying just a handful of words over 90 minutes,the alluring Nicole Stéphane gives an incredible performance as the niece, drawing in the most subtle change of facial and body language,from looking down at the floor like a statue,to longing close-ups letting Stéphane crack the ice from the niece's eyes. Bringing attention to detail in his smoke- hued performance, Jean-Marie Robain gives a haunting performance as the uncle,whose low shoulders and endless pipe smoking gives the uncle an unassuming appearance,which Robain cleverly uses to give the uncle's pragmatic mind-set a left-field mood. Holding his head high on the first night in the house, Howard Vernon gives a delicate performance as Ebrennac,whose Nazi uniform Vernon peels away to reveal the thoughtful,considerate man hidden under the beast.

Made when feelings on the Occupation were still raw, Jean-Pierre Melville's adaptation of "Vercors" (real name Jean Bruller,who based the story on real events) underground short story delivers a message of understanding the individual,but finely not understanding/reasoning with the enemy. Sitting in silence, Melville takes advantage of the situation by giving the uncle a poetic narration expressing how deep his understanding of Ebrennac goes,and giving Ebrennac a blank canvas,which gets painted with the discovery that all of his optimistic beliefs are fatally wrong. Unafraid to open up feelings on the Occupation, Melville presents the uncle and nieces rebellion in a detached, passive manner,with neither of them looking outside the window for a Hollywood (in terms of heroics) resistance.

Going French New Wave almost a decade before the movement existed, Melville went in an indie mode made visible by two non-union cinematographers quitting over his style,the production taking a year due to Melville's cash limits,and most of the movie being shot at Vercors own house. Largely keeping the screen limited to the three in the house, Melville breaks the theatrical trappings of the real location with deep,rich shadows and charcoal (natural) low- lighting casting a ghostly atmosphere over the title. Making his debut, Melville displays signs of the auteur vision that was to arrive with beautiful close-ups capturing the moment when the restrained emotion silently pours out.
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A Promising Debut
alix_no15 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Le Silence De la Mer (Jean-Pierre Melville)

This slow burning World War II drama is based on the short novel of the same name about a German soldier, Werner Von Ebrennac, during wartime who lodges with a French man and his niece, Ebrennac is met only with silence.

Throughout the film Ebrennac attempts to establish a connection to the French and periodically preaches his ideologies of alliances, the similarities between France and Germany, now and again he tells stories of his youth and his fears of the evil that people are capable of. Ebbrennac is attempting to gain empathy from the French, for them to view him as human, rather than an enemy since he admires France so much. Melville denies that this is his attempt to fix the frictional relationship between France and Germany, suggesting instead that the film is just a faithful adaption of the novel, evidenced by the films beginning which is a novel being opened, the film ends with the novel closing.

The house in which most of the film takes place has a ghostly air, the nephew and niece act as though Ebrennac is never there. Ebrennac often drifts in and out of the house and talks to no reply. The film's style is a slightly infrequent, switching from basic narration to flashbacks. Nonetheless the film provides a good idea of French-German relationships during war and challenges peoples perspectives on the enemy. Melville inclines us to understand that the enemy are individuals that are being puppeteer-ed by dictatorial fascistic leaders and that occasionally one in a few aren't hateful. Although the film tends to be a bit slow at times for me and occasionally uninteresting.

The film relies on its dialogue and so the photography is quite simplistic. Inspired metaphoric imagery sometimes sneaks into the movie such as the niece's scarf which features two hands reaching for each other (it looks like it could have drawn by Cocteau). The simplicity increases our awareness and exaggerates the slightest element of suspense, like hearing a pin drop in a silent room. The intense stares shared between characters speaks volumes more than any of the dialogue contained in the film. The slightest hand movement attracts attention.

I feel that the movie is sometimes overdone because of its overly extended scenes of silence which didn't really connect with me, although they are important. This is a promising debut film that features great performances, realistic characters, a unique atmosphere and humanistic overtones.
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Speaking Volumes
writers_reign24 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This fine film has a lot to answer for: when, in 1949, Jean-Pierre Melville shot it he did so with virtually no formal training in film making and, as a non-union member he employed other non-union members, specifically cinematographer Henri Decae, who went on to enjoy a distinguished career. Finally Melville did not shoot in studio conditions, filming the bulk of the action in author Vercors own home - the home in which, he had in fact written the novella which Melville adapted. The quality of the finished product is beyond dispute but the downside is that he gave the Cahiers crowd the idea that anyone could do it, thus indirectly Melville has to take the rap for foisting the untalented semi-amateur Godard on the world of film. That apart this is a stunning debut - Melville had previously shot only a short about a clown - with three (Howard Vernan, Nicole Stephane and Jean-Marie Robain) exceptional performances, all the more so because the latter two speak less than a dozen words between them. Later Melville returned to the Resistance with L'Armee des ombres, arguably the finest film about the Resistance ever made and taken together they make formidable viewing.
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Quiet but powerful war film
gbill-748777 December 2019
"It is a noble thing for a soldier to disobey a criminal order."

The condition the main characters find themselves in seems on one hand absurd and existential, and on the other, to reveal such a timeless and menacing aspect of all war - the desire for one nation to essentially eliminate another. For most of the film, a German officer talks to a Frenchman and his niece about his life, his taste in the arts, and professes his admiration for French culture, all while they sit in stony silence, trapped in their own living room, but passively resisting his overtures to connect with them on a human level. His eyes are eventually opened to his country's plans and what they are really doing though. The novel the film was based on was written in occupied France and published secretly in 1942, which is a marvel on its own to think about.

The film by no means forgives the Nazis (and even includes a Treblinka reference the novel didn't have to emphasize that the Holocaust was known by at least some German officers), but it also shows that decent men exist in any enemy. In this terrible situation, it thus sets up fascinating questions: Should the Frenchman and his daughter engage with this man? Should he attempt to disobey his orders? Or does war simply crush those possibilities out of existence? That scene where the officer sees the monuments in Paris extolling the military triumphs of the past, for leaders and causes which ran their course and faded into oblivion, is brilliant. One sees the courage of the Resistance in these two quiet people in their home, the appeal to humanity under extraordinary circumstances, and the cruelty and senselessness of it all.
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Melville's first film is filled with silence
Red-12525 August 2020
Le silence de la mer (1949) is a French movie scripted and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. This is an unusual film about the French Resistance. It's based on a story by a Resistance fighter whose code name was Vercors.

You would expect a movie about the French Resistance to be filled with clandestine raids and destruction of railroad tracks. This isn't that movie. The Resistance in this case is silence. When the German army occupied France, army officers were often billeted in private homes.

A German officer is billeted in the home of an uncle (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stéphane). Their method of resistance is to act as if the officer is invisible. They refuse to acknowledge his presence. The officer speaks French well, but they do not answer or even look up when he speaks.

That is the plot. You'll have to see the movie to learn how it turns out in the end. Even when the German officer speaks, he's quiet and respectful. This is probably the quietest non-silent film I've ever seen.

It's always written that Melville himself was in the Resistance. However, as far as I can tell, he escaped from France and joined the Free French Army, which wasn't the same thing. He participated in the war as a soldier in Italy. The author Vercors actually was in the Resistance, and wrote the story while fighting the Germans in France.

Like Citizen Kane, this movie had an effect on many films that followed it. Melville was a pioneer. He was never formally trained in cinema. His belief was that he had seen enough movies to know how to make them. And he made this movie in a way that produced impressive results.

Melville worked a generation before the auteurs of the French New Wave. However the New Wave directors respected and copied what he did. He's been called the godfather of the New Wave.

Melville made this movie on a shoestring budget, with scraps of film and no special lighting. His crew fit into a van--director, cinematographer, sound technician, and the three leading actors.

This movie worked well on the small screen. (We bought the Criterion Collection DVD, which included specials that revealed more about Melville and his style of filmmaking.)

It's hard to rate Le silence de la mer, because it's so different from other movies--even French movies about the Resistance. The film has a strong IMDb rating of 7.6, which I think is correct. I rated it 8.
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gavin694212 May 2015
In a small town in occupied France in 1941, the German officer, Werner Von Ebrennac (Howard Vernon) is billeted in the house of the uncle and his niece. The uncle and niece refuse to speak to him, but each evening the officer warms himself by the fire and talks of his country, his music, and his idealistic views of the relationship between France and Germany.

I am not terribly familiar with the work of Melville. More or less, beyond "Le Samourai", I know practically nothing about the man and his work. And, after seeing this, I will have to say "Samourai" is the better film, though this is not without its merits and quite decent for its humble origins.

Of particular interest to me was the casting of Howard Vernon, who was only known to me from the films of Jess Franco. Seeing him in something else, especially something so serious, makes me see he is a better actor than the films he is associated with. What went wrong, Howard?
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yoshi_s_story16 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Irremediable antinomy between the wishes of the heart and the impositions of the human consensus: ideals, values, duty, and pride: flags flags to worship, flags to pay one's, everyone's, life to. Therefore: permanent, inescapable winter; snow.

Apart from its being weighted down with constant historical falsification of the same typical kind of French cultural production on the matter of World Wars as it is, this is a nice motion picture, owing to source material by Vercors, Howard Vernon's remarkable play-acting, and direction.
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stiff, dull, dishonest.
thrback25 November 2019
Extremely disappointing. stiff, unimaginative, unrealistic, bordering on stupid. prehaps its allure is its 1941 underground suggestion in occupied france that some germans didn't like women who tortured insects.

i was looking forward to a period piece. it even used a much later general french disappoval of petain for winter 1940-1941 when people still trusted the old marshal.
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A Good Start to a Great Career
ironlion1069 March 2017
And so Jean-Pierre Melville's career began with this very impressive feature debut. While not quite the same kind of film from him as I'm used to (keep in mind the only other Melville films I've seen are Le Deuxième Soufflé and Le Samouraï), it delivers every bit of quiet tension and restrained filmmaking I've come to love from this director. The vast majority of the film is either narration directly out of the book on which the film was adapted, or Howard Vernon delivering hauntingly beautiful monologues. Vernon's performance is flawless and never fails to draw you in. All of this great stuff aside,Le Silence de la Mer has some room to grow. Biggest issue being that it's basically a stage play. The medium is hardly utilized and it makes for a semi- dull viewing. This isn't the fault of Melville or anybody else, that's just what the source material calls for. As perfectly executed as Vernon's monologues were, I just can't help but feel that the story could have had so much more to offer. But this, again, is the fault of the author of the book, not Melville. All in all, Le Silence de la Mer is a very good start to Melville's career and definitely one not to let pass you by.
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Melville's first full-length film is done on the cheap.
MartinHafer18 November 2019
Although writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville was a very famous and gifted filmmaker, when he made "Le Silence de la Mer" he was an unknown with only one film, a short, to his credit. Read up on the IMDB page on how Melville made the film without first obtaining the author's permission....and how he overcame that. Also read about how the film was done on the cheap--without sets and using natural light. The natural light, actually, was a good thing...and the cameraperson made the most of this.

The story is set during WWII during the Nazi occupation of France. A homeowner is informed that a German officer will be living with them...and whether or not the family approved seemed irrelevant. Because of this, the Frenchman and his niece silently agree to say nothing to their 'guest' nor to acknowledge him in any way. As for the officer, he eventually responds by donning his civilian clothes and talking to the family each night...during which, again, they do not acknowledge him. He talks about many things, but often about his admiration for the French and their culture. This pattern continues for months...and what eventually occurs is for you to learn for yourself.

This is a well made film, though I should warn you that it's also a bit slow...and this is necessitated by the plot. There really is no way to make this a fast-paced and stirring film, so I do not blame Melville for this...after all, it IS the novel on which it was based. A most unique film...and one Melvillephiles should see...though not an easy film to watch due to its slowness and minimal dialog.

By the way, despite his white hair, the Uncle was played by Jean-Marie Robain--a man in his 30s. As for the German, he was actually played by a Swiss actor...which makes sense as they needed a man fluent in both German and French.
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hualalalamima4 August 2020
The embrace of the ocean, the lingering of the seaweed, the confusion of the reef, adieu means farewell forever.
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