Le Samourai (1967 France)

LE-SAMOURAI-1967_1766331iWho is he? It doesn’t matter. What does he want? To kill someone. Enough said. A man, a mission, few words. That’s the way of the samurai. One downside only: there is no greater solitude than that of the samurai. Unless you are a tiger in the jungle. What you won’t experience here is adrenaline pumping fast pace, flashy quick cuts, slow motion sequences, car chases, spectacular stunts or explosions. Even blood is scarce. 

Starring the big, pretty French star of the time, Alain Delon, for many this is the director’s finest achievement, the film for which he is most warmly remembered for. This is unquestionably one of the finest peaks of 60’s French cinema. Delon plays a hit man, Jef Costello, who lives in a ratty room with a pet parakeet who cheeps constantly – in fact, the film starts with the bird cheeping. In the end, the bird has more dialogue than anyone else. Delon’s beautiful face is expressionless for the most part; his eyes are cold; one never knows what he’s thinking and he seems to have no emotion. His character is unflappable, even when being questioned by the police. Even when injured he still makes sure his parakeet has food. He could be an example of existentialist man, a man who does not exist except through his acts. Melville’s films were old-school, but at the same time revolutionary, in a delicate way. Take for example the ‘chase’ scene through the Metro. Practically nothing happens: there are no gunfights, no combat sequences, perhaps just a small chase. But it is Melville’s camera and Delon’s inimitable performance that keep the audience mesmerized all the way.

Le Samurai

Jef Costello is a cold, silent hit-man who seems to have a meticulous obsession with perfection and alertness. After a dead-silent, slow preparation for a hit, Costello does his dirty dues in the back of a nightclub but he is seen by a witness, the regular piano player of the place. He is suspected, along with 400 other men, to be the killer. So he is kept in the police station – one of the most suspenseful long sequences of the film – emerging as not guilty. Costello’s boss tries to kill him, and in the meantime, at the police station the investigating officer is not at all convinced of Costello’s innocence. Delon’s character now is chased by the police and held under strict control by criminal bosses. In a way it’s almost like watching a silent film. It has some fascinating French neighbourhood locations, a charismatic actor and a good musical score for the viewer to feast on.

This movie has everything you’d expect from a Melville picture: a cold, expressionist blue and green lighting, a slow contemplative pace, a silent main character stuck in a criminal situation. Alain Delon, as always, is superb in creating such a mysterious and intriguing figure, yet very clearly defined by his actions and behavior. Arguably the biggest star here though is the man behind the camera, Melville himself: not only does he create in this story a look of its own, but he also gives it personality. This turned it into a prototype film in itself – bound to be nothing but an influence to countless Crime Thrillers following it.  At the same time there are some obvious nods to American Crime films from the 1930’s. The plot in itself, although it becomes more and more dense as the film progresses, is familiar. It’s this Melvillian hand print that changes “Le Samourai” into something special.

Le Samurai 2

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Comments

  1. This was my first film with Alain Delon, and also the first time watching a crime film were the action was minimalist. I wanted with all my fiver to be this “le samuorai” with his cold tactics. Needless to say I was incredibly impress with the film, that even today I use as measuring rate for other films

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