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When You Read This Letter(1953)

Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the inspirations behind the French New Wave movement, dismissed his fourth feature—made 65 years ago—as a commercial exercise that was only important because it made him enough money to open his own studio. There is more to it than just commercial success, however. The film is a deeply subversive combination of romantic melodrama and film noir, starting with the casting of sensual singer Juliette Gréco as Thérèse Voise, a woman studying for the sisterhood. When her parents die in an accident, she leaves the convent to care for her younger sister, whose burgeoning sexuality is a mystery to her. When the sister is raped by a young gigolo (matinée idol and Gréco’s first husband, Philippe Lemaire), Thérèse blackmails him into proposing to the girl only to find the man coming on to her. Melville plays with genre by making this a film noir with an “homme fatale” rather than a femme, and frequently feminizes the chauvinistic Lemaire by shooting him as lovingly as a Hollywood beauty queen. Melville’s depiction of the criminal underworld in Cannes prefigure his later noirs like Bob la Flambeur (1956) and Le Samouraï (1967). Films like these would become a major influence on directors like John Woo and Quentin Tarantino.  Restoration by Gaumont.  (d. Jean-Pierre Melville, 104m, Digital)

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