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Le Silence De La Mer
Le Silence De La Mer“An extraordinary film by the then-
  inexperienced Jean-Pierre Melville,
  Le Silence De La Mer is taken from
  the famous novel by Vercors and
  is a subtle tribute to the brave and
  steadfast members of the French
  Resistance during the Second World
  War, through silence..

BRINGING VERCORS' FAMOUS NOVEL Le Silence De La Mer to the screen was all the more remarkable because Jean-Pierre Melville was at that time totally untrained in the matters of cinema.

This simple film is significant as the first foray into the world of movies by both the Director and the Director of Photography (stills photographer Henri Decae). Dedicated to the French Resistance, it is a fine historical reference representing defiance through silence.

Vercors had been in the French Resistance and had dedicated Le Silence De La Mer to the murdered poet Saint-Pol Roux, completing the printing of the book on 20 February 1942 under Nazi Occupation. When Melville approached Vercors, he was against the idea of sanctioning the would-be film-maker's vision but Melville was determined to see the project through.

He had overwhelming support from the Resistance members to whom he showed the finished film as it was deemed to be very much in the spirit of the Resistance. Le Silence De La Mer was originally screened in 1948 and the film premiered the following year, becoming a huge success.

The Second World War was clearly a very traumatic time for the French. Shot in the writer's own home, Le Silence De La Mer is the story of a patriotic Frenchman (Jean-Marie Robain) who lives with his equally patriotic niece (Nicole Stephane, who had also been in the Resistance and was a co-producer of the film) in a spacious village house during the German occupation of France.

It is 1941 and a German officer, Werner von Ebrannac (Howard Vernon) arrives to be billeted at the house and the young woman and her uncle protest against this by remaining completely silent in his presence.

Although von Ebrannac is courteous, apologising genuinely for the inconvenience, neither the uncle nor his niece will respond to him. Undaunted, the German says he has a deep respect for those who love their country and he also has a love of France.

He is a cultured, sympathetic gentleman who loves French literature. Slowly he opens up to the uncle and his niece and at times the Frenchman feels a need to respond, but still he stays completely silent, thus maintaining a show of resistance.

The Frenchman notes von Ebrannac's decency and politeness. Because of his own upbringing, it pains him to offend even an enemy but he had agreed with his niece that they would not change their lives and would act as if the officer did not exist.

With a love of art and music and a disdain for war, von Ebrannac nevertheless believes that something good may come from the hostilities. A marriage between France and Germany would be the most beautiful marriage in the world, he believes. He talks of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast and says he understands the Beast's suffering.

There are many things the Germans have done that von Ebrannac does not agree with. He has lost friends because they do not see things the way he does and a fiancée who was cruel to an insect that bit her. The uncle and his niece begin to understand von Ebrannac as being a kind and gentle human being, but still give nothing to him.

Many French people resisted and the film celebrates the bravery of those in the Resistance through silence. There was, of course, collaboration and in her commentary included on the DVD, actress Ginette Vincendeau speaks of the "shame" of collaboration — something that perhaps is difficult to condemn looking at it during times of peace. To the heroes of the Resistance, all of whom were prepared to risk their lives for the cause, it must have seemed alien — particularly also for the friends and families of those who died.

The film depicts the silent protest of the Frenchman and his niece and the discovery of the human side of the German. As his character unfolds, it is difficult not to sympathise with him as someone who is caught up in a terrible event that is beyond his control. Le Silence De La Mer is a simple, fascinating and brilliant film which will appeal especially to those interested in the Second World War and the occupation of France.

Le Silence De La Mer also features: Ami Aaröe as La Fiancée; Georges Patrix as L'ordonnance; and Denis Sadier as L'ami. Music is by Edgar Bischoff; Director of Photography is Henri Decae; Director of Production is Edmond Vaxelaire; Producer is Marcel Cartier. Adapted and Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.

Le Silence De La Mer is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 23 January 2012.

"Le Silence De La Mer is a simple, fascinating and brilliant film" — Maggie Woods, MotorBar