Adapted from the novel by Vercors, this story of quiet resistance in German-occupied France in the Second World War met with fierce opposition when director Jean Pierre Melville attempted to start production just a couple of years after the end of the conflict.
This explains in part the sparseness of the end result and the relative lack of personnel in the credits. The director was, however, able to persuade Vercors to allow shooting to take place in his home, which in turn enabled him to ensure that Melville stayed true to the author’s work. Scenes featuring the book at the beginning and end serve to underline the adherence of the film to the original text.
The story centres on the arrival of a German officer, von Ebrennac, into the home of a French man and his niece. They have no choice about whether he lives in their home but they make a stand by choosing not to speak to him. As the months pass von Ebrennac, a cultured, erudite man with compassion and a sense of distaste for his enforced presence in the house, attempts every evening to engage the pair in conversation and prove to them that he is civilised and even vulnerable. All attempts fail and the pair remain totally silent.
There is little action and in the shadowy atmosphere of the kitchen where most scenes take place, the tiniest gesture becomes loaded with significance and one word, after months of silence, speaks volumes.
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