Monday, July 23, 2018

Cinema Shame: Le samouraï (1967)




When I was curating my Cinema Shame list for 2018, I looked to FilmStruck for some inspiration. Le samouraï (1967) is a staple on FilmStruck's Criterion Channel and one of the first films I noticed on the service when I signed up as a beta user. I wasn’t familiar with director Jean-Pierre Melville’s work and hadn’t seen many Alain Delon films. For me that’s good enough a reason to dive in because I love exploring unfamiliar territory. In addition to that, my love of French cinema and the influence of my friend Kate Gabrielle, who is a big Alain Delon fan, helped put Le samouraï on my FilmStruck watchlist.

Le samouraï stars Alain Delon as Jef Costello, a professional hitman hired to kill the owner of a jazz club. He goes through an elaborate ritual in preparation for the kill: he dresses up in his signature trench coat, with popped collar, hat and white gloves, he establishes an alibi with his girlfriend Jane (Nathalie Delon) and he steals a car. The hit goes according to plan until it doesn’t. The club’s pianiste (Cathy Rosier) becomes a witness to the murder. Jef is put in a police line up and is suspected of being the killer by Le Commissaire (Francois Perier). This puts his bosses, which include some of the club’s staff, in a precarious situation. They decide that they must get rid of Jef to protect themselves. Jef goes from killer for hire to target.

Jean-Pierre Melville was heavily influenced by American Film Noir and it shows in Le samouraï. This French neo-noir thriller is atmospheric and strikingly visual. I love how the film plays with light and shadow. Alain Delon is a perfect fit for Jef, the cold, detached and methodical protagonist. Delon brings a mystique to the character that makes Jef one cool mofo. Delon is a work of art in motion. I love how beautifully he’s positioned in the different scenes. With his amazing blue eyes are piercing through the screen, Delon is someone you just want to keep looking at. Yes there are other actors in this movie but they all seem to serve as pawns to tell Jef’s story.


Alain Delon in Le samouraï

Alain Delon in Le samouraï

Alain Delon in Le samouraï

Alain Delon in Le samouraï

Alain Delon in Le samouraï


Alain Delon in Le samouraï


And his story is brilliantly told. The first 10 minutes are without any dialogue. We watch Jef go through the motions of his pre-kill ritual. Just watching him we learn about what kind of man he is but also we’re held at a distance. In one of the early, it’s a rainy day, Jef has just stolen a car and a beautiful young woman looks over at him while they sit in traffic. He acknowledges her presence but makes it clearn he has no interest in pursuing any form of interaction with her. As the audience we have the same dynamic with him. In Jef’s apartment is a bullfinch in a cage. I like to think the bird represents Jef’s fear of being trapped. He’ll do anything to be free and stay free. At any cost.

I fell for Le samouraï hook, line and sinker. I’m here for more Melville, more Delon and more French neo-noir. It was by happenstance that I watched Robert Wise's film noir thriller Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) immediately after watching Le samouraï . I found out later that Melville adored that film, kept his own 35mm copy, and watched it over 80 times. A review of that film is coming soon!

Le samouraï is available to watch on FilmStruck's Criterion Channel. There is no expiration date so this one is not going anywhere anytime soon.



Le samouraï (1967) is the fourth of eight films that I am watching for the 2018 Cinema Shame challenge. Check out my original list and stay tuned for more reviews!
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