After being blown away by Blow-Up I head back over the Channel to France for my 1967 pick in this Film7070 challenge as I take a look at Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.
Jef Costello (Alain Delon) is a contract killer, priding himself at being one of the best at his craft he leaves nothing to chance. For each job he orchestrates solid alibis, makes sure he blends into the back ground and makes sure there’s absolute no lose threats. But when he is seen by Piano player Valerie (Cathy Rosier) in a nightclub after killing the owner he finds himself the main suspect in the investigation. His planning pays off and he is released, but to ensure his safety he needs to be certain his identity stays a secret and keep the suspicious Superintendent at arm’s length.
It’s very VERY difficult to write about Le Samouraï without just typing ‘drool’ but with me having the obligation to produce more I will attempt to elaborate on my mouthy watery thoughts.
There’s a style about Le Samouraï that Jean-Pierre Melville has constructed which makes anything on screen utterly seductive, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a sexual way, you get totally engrossed by the trill and by the silence of the film. Even in the opening credits which is simply Jef lying down on his bed in his empty apartment smoking, somehow the director makes it seem invigorating to watch and you then begin to love observing the way Jef works. So methodical and intelligent in his execution, it’s like a huge puzzle that he must complete before each kill. I think it’s actually 9 minutes in before a single word is spoken but you don’t notice it because the film has 100% of your attention.
The look of the film is so drab and overcast; it’s basically shot in a constant shade of grey as if trying to hark back to the influence of Hollywood black and white noir which it is feeds off. Thinking about it I can’t really think of any vibrant colours in it whatsoever which could then be seen as a projection of Jef’s outlook on the world. But at the centre of this story and something that is always great to see, two characters equally intelligent trying to better the other, the cat and mouse chase as François Périer Superintendent tries to catch Jef, which leads to some thrillingly tense scenes like the outstanding Metro pursuit, you can really see Melville having fun pulling the strings in the staging and editing of the sequence.
After seeing Le Samouraï you can see it’s obvious influences throughout modern cinema, most recently in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The lone individual who’s married to the job, he’s cold, empty and in his quieter moments engulfed by an encompassing loneliness. He meets a beautiful girl who somehow makes him feel compassion and empathy that he didn’t know he possessed and knows that he will have to sacrifice himself for her safety and show her that he is a good man. You know that Jef is doomed from the start, but the film doesn’t try to gloss over this or even surprise you as it’s about showing the characters humanity before he chooses to make the decision.
Like I mentioned before, if you love cinema as an art form it will make you drool because you’ll find it hard to see a better example of pure style than Le Samouraï. Melville’s beautiful and thought provoking crime thriller is essential viewing for any film fan that wants to see true cinema in its purest form.