Le Silence de la Mer

Begin with the irony: a Jean-Pierre Melville film, with the word 'silence' in the title, no less, that is wall-to-wall talking. The film and the novel it is based on use the silence as both a figurative and a literal means of depicting the struggle of French Resistance members during World War II. To resist requires ignoring something central in the humanity of the Germans, and willfully ignoring this is an act of psychic violence on the person ignoring.

The plot is predictable enough: the German soldier will become disillusioned, and the French uncle and his niece will not talk to him. What saves the film is in two rather unconventional decisions about structure and pacing. The first is to film the soldier's trip to Paris in two separate scenes: one where he tours the monuments of the city, alone; and another, separated from the first by five or ten minutes of film, where the soldier interacts with his fellow officers and then begins to notice details of the city and the Nazi occupation. The second key decision is to allow the solider his longest monologue after this revelation: he is allowed to talk himself through all the stages of his own disillusionment, how the hopes he had announced in the beginning of the film were based on lies (not his own lies, but his willingness to believe the lip service others paid to his cultural aspirations), how the entire thing was rotten to the core, how he could not run away from his responsibilities but could not take part in this mission any longer. Allowing him the simple perspective of the outside observer comments more effectively on the Nazi mission than something that attempts to speak directly to it.

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