• Le Doulos (Kino Lorber) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: July 2nd, 2019.
    Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
    Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, Michel Piccoli
    Year: 1962
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    Le Doulos – Movie Review:

    Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville in 1962, Le Doulos (also known as The Finger Man) tells the story of a French gangster named Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo). We learn that he may or may not have turned rat on an ex-con named Maruice Faugel (Serge Reggiani), who is an old friend of Silien’s who has just gotten out of prison. Maurice has returned to his old tricks, having recently worked on a heist that should have been a lot easier than it turned out to be but which ended with the murder of Gilbert Vanovre (René Lefèvre).

    Silien, however, agrees to get Faugel the gear that he needs for his next break-in – the later completely unaware that Silien may actually be working as a police informant (the term ‘le doulos’ means ‘the hat’ in French but it is also slang for an informant).

    Based on the novel by novel by Pierre Lesou and featuring some drop dead gorgeous cinematography from Nicolas Hayer, this is a deceptively simple film that works best if you follow Silien’s path rather than try to piece together all of the name dropping and hints that are seemingly scattered about and don’t wind up going anywhere. This is more about Silien’s process, about his need to weave and dodge his way through a dangerous criminal underworld in order to keep his cover and finish his job. As the film plays out if might seem like it isn’t making sense of connecting its narrative properly but stick with the film all the way through and it pays off beautifully.

    As far as the performances go, Jean-Paul Belmondo is just about as cool as they come in this picture. He looks ridiculously dapper and does a fantastic job of skulking about, mechanizing various plot twists and just generally playing the anti-hero role perfectly. Serge Reggiani is also very good as the cold-hearted Faugel and the lovely Monique Hennessy is quite impressive as his girlfriend, Thérèse. The performances are strong across the board, the characters all seeming to have stepped out of a movie made two decades before in Los Angeles of New York rather than in Paris (the influence of the American film noir movement of the forties is prevalent throughout this picture and, for that matter, much of Melville’s work as a director).

    The visuals are stunning, from the lengthy opening with Belmondo, clad in a hat and a trench coat of course, making his way through the city to the cold-blooded murder of Vanovre right through to the big finish where the film pulls everything together. The movie takes place in a world built of shadow, it’s a dark and, at times, almost eerie place but it’s beautiful to look at. The hardboiled dialogue drips with venom when the story calls for it, it’s snappy and hip and, again, very, very cool.

    Le Doulos – Blu-ray Review:

    Le Doulos is presented on a 50GB disc (with the feature taking up almost 44GBs of space) in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1. Taken from a new 4k restoration, the picture quality on this release is excellent. Contrast looks spot on, so we get nice, deep blacks alongside clean whites with a nice grey scale filling in the balance. The film is given a strong bit rate and, as such, there are no noticeable problems with any compression artifacts. The picture retains a filmic look throughout, there are no problems with any obvious edge enhancement or noise reduction to complain about. The image is also pretty much spotless, retaining the expected film grain but showing virtually no print damage. Detail is vastly improved over the older DVD release from Criterion, it isn’t even close – at the risk of gushing, this transfer is just flat out beautiful.

    The French DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track on the disc is also very strong. The track is clean and nicely balanced, exhibiting no audible defects at all. Range is understandably limited by the origins of the source material but that’s not a flaw. The score sounds good, the dialogue is clear – no problems at all, this track sounds very good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    The extra features start out with an audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan that, like most of her commentaries as of late, is a good mix of insight, analysis and factual information. She notes the film’s impact on French cinema, the influence of older American film noir pictures and other French films, Melville’s style, Belmondo’s inimitable presence in the film and quite a bit more. Deighan has done a good amount of research for this and delivers an interesting track.

    Featurettes? We get those too, starting with the half-hourThe Demon Within Him interview that gets first assistant director Volker Schlöndorff in front of the camera to discuss what it was like working with the legendary Melville, how American film noir influenced the director’s work, some of the themes and ideas that recur throughout his filmography, his own contributions to this particular film and a fair bit more. The second featurette is the thirty-three-minute Birth Of The Detective Story Melville Style which is, as the title suggests, a look at the influence of Le Doulos on French cinema. Hosted by film historian Denitza Bantcheva, it explores the look of the film, Belmondo’s casting and performance and a fair bit more. Schlöndorff appears in this piece as well, covering some of the same ground that is gone over in the first piece. Still, both of these are very interesting and definitely welcome additions to the extra features department of this release.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s theatrical trailer, a few bonus trailers (Léon Morin, Priest, Bob le Flambeur, Touchez Pas au Grisbi, Razzia sur la chnouf, Alphaville), menus and chapter selection.

    Le Doulos – The Final Word:

    Even if Le Doulos were dull and uninspired it would be worth seeing for the visuals alone but thankfully that is not the case. It’s a tense and exciting film with a fantastic lead performance from a young Belmondo and a great story that keeps us intrigued from start to finish. Kino Lorber has done a wonderful job bringing this to Blu-ray with a reference quality presentation and a nice selection of extra features as well. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Le Doulos Blu-ray screen caps!