French Film Noir with a Samurai Aesthetic. LE SAMOURAI.
Apr 5, 2010 (Updated Apr 5, 2010)
Review by Mark Vaughan
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Beautiful, sparse, elegant, brutal. Alain Delon is compelling; sexy and revolting.
Cons:None. This is a masterpiece.
The Bottom Line: As elegant as a haiku, as brutal as a gunshot, is he Samurai, ninja, or something else? Alain Delon is Le Samourai.
Le Samouraï (1967) Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
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"There is no solitude greater than a samurai's, unless perhaps it is that of a tiger in the jungle.'' _The Book of Bushido (fictional)
That is the opening quote of this movie. It starts in an empty room. At first, you assume the movie is in black and white, but then the bird flutters with a movement of muddy yellow, and a hand moves on the bed, and blue smoke curls up. It is not empty, but contains Jef Costello (Alain Delon) a man of quiet precision. He rises, puts on his coat, adjusts the impeccable brim of his fedora, and leaves to do horrible things.
Why is this French movie called "The Samurai"? Because Jef Costello applies a samurai's dedication to the perfection of violence to his work. Because the aesthetic is a sparse and pure as a haiku; nothing extraneous, everything building the mood, evoking powerful emotion with minimal effort. Because the palette is the same as an ink scroll; black, grey, and shades of pale from tan to cream, all bleak, all graceful, all lovely in the whole, if drab in the singular.
Jef is a hit man. His target is doomed. With careful precision, and absolute detachment, he steals a car, has the plates replaced, and collects a gun. He makes his round, not settling for one alibi, but building a two part alibi. Part is a card game, part a beautiful woman, (This is a French film, after all) Jane Lagrange (Nathalie Delon). Jef makes his way to the nightclub, winds his way to the back, and shoots the target. It is almost flawless; the piano player, (Cathy Rosier) called Valérie is heading back as he flees the crime scene. But there is no sloppy unauthorized killing. He sticks to the plan, and makes his way to Jane's flat. He arrives just in time to be seen leaving by her lover, (Michel Boisrond) and he is off to the card game.
The police round up over 400 suspects. Jef is one of them. There are six witnesses from the nightclub. Some are unsure. Some are positive; yes it is him, no, it isn't him at all. But only Valérie saw him at short range. And she says it is not him. Why becomes the central question of the movie.
The Superintendant (François Périer) has his own ideas about Jef, but his alibi is solid, and his precautions flawless. His only chance to prove anything is to tail him.
But as a Samurai knows his katana, Jef knows the Metro, and plays with the cops, losing them in the labyrinth of the city. Then it is time to meet and get paid. Too bad, for everyone, it does not go as planned.
This piece is a perfect little French Film Noir. Our hero is a cold blooded killer, his adversary, a corrupt cop. There are no heroes, there is no happy ending. Melville films a picture like a master of the brush paints with ink. Pressure here, but not there, a hint is as good as a diagram, sparse clean elements come together to build something beautiful, and emotionally powerful. Alain Delon plays it much the same way. Insanely beautiful, he controls his prettiness by wearing a mask of indifference. Unemotional and detached, his actions, so controlled and minimal, take on a greater importance. The chase through the metro has all the tension of a high speed car chase, with none of the horse power and violence.
Le Samouraï is an odd mix; French film noir with a ninja assassin motif, a combination of bleak realism with surrealist detachment. Elegant, sparse, brutal it is as compelling today as it was in 67. Check it out.
Certified Lean-N-Mean, and entered into Captain D's Good Movie Write Off.
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