Bob Le Flambeur Is A Charming Classic Film That Started A Lot Of Cinema Trends
For some reason, noir films love casinos, much like how film tropes continue to link casinos to criminal underworlds. Art imitates life, I suppose, as gambling has always been linked to crime, and casinos have always been fronts for shadier activities. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that noir, a film genre that celebrates dark stories, would constantly use casinos. And Bob le Flambeur, a French movie from 1956 directed by iconic French director Jean-Pierre Melville, a forerunner of French New Wave cinema, tackles this in its own interesting interpretation of the trope.
A quick synopsis of Bob le Flambeur: Middle-aged Parisian gambler and ex-con Bob (played by French actor Roger Duchesne; “flambeur” means gambler in French) finds himself very unlucky and nearly broke. To solve this problem of his, Bob hatches a plan to stage a heist the Deauville Casino in Normandy, France and rob the casino of all its money.
Bob plans to set off his heist early in the morning, hiring an entire crew of people to help him with the undertaking, including a croupier and a safecracker.
Bob also manages to get involved with a homeless young woman, Anne (played by Isabelle Corey), who eventually finds out about Bob’s plan, and accidentally sells them out to Marc, an informant. Marc lets the police know, but it turns out that the person he told owes his life to Bob after being saved, and Marc eventually gets shot by Paolo, the crew member who told Anne.
It turns out that a bunch of other people have shared Bob’s plan with others, such as Bob’s croupier friend who was supposed to be their inside man at the casino. Bob plays in the casino and goes on a winning spree, almost missing the time they were supposed to hit the place. The police arrive and start a shootout, and Bob eventually gets arrested after Paolo gets shot. However, the ending of the film suggests that Bob will get off easily, and will run away with Anne.
If Bob le Flambeur‘s synopsis reads more like a comedy than film noir to you, it’s only because the movie’s events are deliberately written to feel ironic. There’s an undercurrent of humor in the criminal plot to steal caches of money from a casino, encouraged by the filmmaking and editing, but that serves as a complement to the ironic story. The movie is classic 1950s fare, though, managing to hit all the tropes of movies your grandparents used to love. Check out the trailer and see just how old-school it really is:
Bob le Flambeur is definitely a product of its time, but it was also ahead of its time. Cited as the forerunner of the French New Wave genre, its camerawork is but a camera man biking around wielding a mere handheld (way before fellow legendary Frenchman Jean-Luc Godard would do the same for his movies), and there’s only one jump cut in the entire movie.
It falls under noir because the story revolves around gangsters, which seem to be something that’s been really romanticized in the middle of the last century.
In Bob le Flambeur, the movie’s actors don’t have to overact; all they have to do is stand there and do what’s written in the script, each line and each instruction. Roger Duchesne’s Bob is emotionless even when he has emotion to show, much like the professional gambler he really is, but I don’t think it’s because of what his character’s backstory is. His reputation in the film, within all the characters in the story, is all the audience has to go on.
The twist of Bob le Flambeur‘s story, the ironic moment where Bob starts winning at the casino before managing to get to his heist, is actually a twist that’s been borrowed by a lot of subsequent films. The previously reviewed movieadapted it for its own story, when Sydney’s relationship with John becomes threatened with Jimmy’s knowledge of what the former did to the latter’s father. Film homages like that show how powerful and lasting Bob le Flambeur‘s legacy is.
However, like I mentioned earlier, Bob le Flambeur is also a product of its time. The late movie critic Roger Ebert notes that Melville scripted women to be a huge problem of Bob. There’s an underlying bit of old-fashioned sexism in there, in laying out females as obstacles that must be overcome, even if they’re not overcome. Even if the obstacle is necessary to the execution of the story and the portrayal of its morals, using females and depicting them as bumbling and gossipy is problematic. Melville relegates Anne to the role of gossipmonger who can’t keep her mouth shut, setting in motion the events that lead to the failure of Bob’s heist. At the end of the movie, Anne remains as the sultry trophy that’s waiting for Bob after he skips jail. Back in the day, women really were reduced to these roles.
Despite that, however, Bob le Flambeur is a classic film that deserves a watch, if only for the fact that there are a lot of old movies that need watching just because of their age. There’s a certain charm that films from these periods possess, in their artful black-and-white rendering that clearly denotes the movie as being a work from a different time and place. It’s the mere appreciation of cinema, if you will, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you also love a good story, then this is also bound to entertain you. Just leave all your expectations behind.
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