The English title is Dirty Money, random but apt for a link to L'Argent, another master's final work -- Jean-Pierre Melville's lapidated imagery is Bressonian, or, as the younger director preferred to say, perhaps it was Bresson who had always been Melvillian. The finish of a steadily abstracting line in any case, the opening bank robbery (pale Hokusai lighting, blue sleekness and seaside melancholy, trenchcoats, masks and about three sentences for the hold-up) distilling an entire oeuvre. Richard Crenna, laconic in fedora and shades, is the chief hood, Alain Delon is his friend, a weary police detective -- Delon lounges by a nightclub piano and his insouciant tinkling summons Catherine Deneuve, who travels from underworld to law and back to provide the third side of their triangle. The central sequence is the boarding of a night express, a helicopter dropping Crenna into the moving train to relieve two valises of cocaine from the transporter; the thief sneaks in, changes from jumpsuit to red pjs, combs his hair back and uses a magnet to pick a lock, all ritual, all ceremony. An ascetic policier, with Melville continuously bridging the histories of genre and art -- Delon contemplates a slain moll at a grim fleapit, then an object d'art at a perfumed old debaucher's house; Crenna, for his part, meets his gang at a museum (a shot of the fake hall is bizarrely lyrical), moving in so his close-up can be intercut with Van Gogh's self-portrait. Everything points to the disintegration of Melville's loyalty motif, honor all but evaporated from both sides of the game. A wounded gang member is snuffed out lest he snitch, although there's even less scruples for the cops -- the job makes them skeptical ("especially about skepticism"), Delon waits an extra instant to burst in on Riccardo Cucciolla so the wretched accomplice can blow his brains out in the bathroom. A tranny informer is last seen with teary-runny mascara, unceremoniously dumped; chilling perfection is Melville's epitath, death in the morning street, empty but for red lights and cold eyes and, per Vidocq, "ambiguity and derision." With Michael Conrad, Paul Crachet, and Jean Desailly.
--- Fernando F. Croce