Editor's note: Smarty-pants critic Charles Mudede claims that both ostranited and enstranged are real words, though not in many dictionaries. E-mail him for definitions: charles@thestranger.com.

JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE is famous for changing his name from Jean-Pierre Grumbach, in honor of Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick. (I have never read this book, and don't ever plan to, as nothing could be more dreadful than a long story about a whale.) Jean-Pierre Chandler or Jean-Pierre Hemingway I'd understand, seeing as these writers have something in common with the art of this supreme French director (often called "the spiritual father of the French New Wave"), but Jean-Pierre Melville?! Why Herman Melville? What did Grumbach see in his work? Benito Cereno and Bartleby the Scrivener, the only things I have read by Herman Melville, offer no clues. Maybe it is a French thing; I just don't know.

What I do know, however, is that Jean-Pierre Melville's crime films are marvelous, and though I love the elegant Bob le Flambeur and the existential Le Samourai, I'm particularly fond of the elaborate Le Doulos (The Stool Pigeon), whose plot is so involved that it's impossible to summarize. Suffice it to say it concerns two criminals: a burglar who is fresh out of the clink (Serge Reggiani), and a hoodlum who is trying settle down in the country (Jean-Paul Belmondo). The stool pigeon in question is Jean-Paul Belmondo, but my synopsis is already misleading. Just watch the film.

What makes this movie great is not its baroque plot, but rather its simple touches, like a criminal ordering a "baby whiskey"; burglars wearing comfortable, matching sneakers while doing a job; soft jazz playing in a moll's modern apartment; or a crook settling his tab before cops lead him out of a bar.

These touches are striking because they have been ostranited or defamiliarized--enstranged and dislocated from their normal place or use. In the normal world, one settles one's tab and goes home; but in Melville's criminal world, one settles one's tab and then goes to jail. The gesture of paying one's bill is lost in the normal world, but vivid and striking in the criminal world. These touches are everywhere in the film, and, taken in summation, make this otherwise ordinary French gangster film into something strange and wonderful.

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