Jean-Pierre MelvilleFrance87 minutes1949B&WFrench
A central work of French cinema (Jean Renoir declared it the best film he had seen in 15 years), Melville's debut was "important to the development of Bresson, Astruc, Resnais, and possibly Rohmer" (David Thomson). Adapted from the clandestinely published 1942 novel by Vercors, Le Silence de la mer is set in a small French town during the Nazi Occupation, where a young woman (Nicole Stéphane) and her elderly uncle are forced to provide lodgings for a German officer (Howard Vernon). Unnerved by his hosts' refusal to speak to him (and attracted by the niece's refinement), the German carries on a soliloquy throughout his weeks and months in the house, revealing his doubts, sensitivity, and nostalgia for the culture that has been lost in the barbarity of war. Melville's lead actress Stéphane had survived the Occupation under constant threat of deportation to the Nazi death camps because she was actually a Rothschild; the eerie intensity she brings to her role of the unspeaking woman is matched by the film's brooding sense of impending ruin.