1967 Movie Review: LE SAMOURAI, 1967

LE SAMOURAI, 1967
Thriller Movie Review
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring Alain Delon, Francois Perier, Cathy Rosier
Review by Alex Haight

Hitman Jef Costello is a perfectionist who always carefully plans his murders and who never gets caught. One night however, after killing a night-club owner, he’s seen by witnesses. His efforts to provide himself with an alibi fail and more and more he gets driven into a corner.SYNOPSIS:

REVIEW:

“There is not greater solitude than that of a Samourai, unless it’s that of a tiger in the jungle…perhaps.” -Bushido (Book of the Samourai)

Modeled on the notion that emotion shows weakness, Alain Delon’s eponymous role as a hired assassin plays as strong a performance than any other who have attempted to bring bravado and sleekness to the muscle persona.

Delon plays Jef Costello a minimalist, cold and precise gun for hire who’s on the run after botching his most recent job at a swanky French nightclub. While the subject doesn’t sound particularly striking, it plays out like an expansive avant-garde exercise in patience, technique and vulnerability.

Those who have seen the film , will know that the story is about process and a mans understanding of a solitary existence-that by choice we lead ourselves towards an inevitable end…what happens to us on our way there, cannot be stopped…but it can be persuaded.

This thinking bleeds out of Alain’ Jef. With a cold stare and equally frigid heart, Jef lives in a state of limbo throughout the picture. He is the human gray area. Not truly defined by earnest emotion, but rather a striking sense of arrogance and helplessness living between the role of citizen and killer. It’s when those characteristics meld that we see the efficient, and controlled mind of Le Samourai emerge.

“Never has a man put on a hat and coat so perfectly.”

Shot with immaculate precision by Henri Decae, the film truly defines the new wave/neo-noir style. Where once shadows existed to hide the brooding sinister beings looking to terrorize us, Melville strips away the dark and pushes them right in our face.The use of colour and tone really sets up the movie from the very first second. A two minute static shot of a lone gunman smoking inside his empty apartment while his pet bird chirps from inside his cage screams for the arthouse crowd. More importantly though rather than solely being eye candy this shot perhaps juxtaposes that inside Jef too is trapped and crying out? Perhaps this leads to his mis–calculation at the club?Maybe?

When one thinks of it, takes a pretty cold bast’d to be able to give you chills in broad daylight, and Melville understands this…making every shot, transition and cut logical and effective. The man is really painting here. Bold washed out stripes of fury and isolated blobs of colour- the summation of Le Samourai’ effectiveness as something much more than just 105 minutes of film. There is energy, and prowess, achieving something more than the traditional genre gazer would anticipate.

However, those expecting a taught, action based shoot ‘em up fraught with quips and womanizing- ala James Bond may be a little let down. Think of it as the art-house 007. A French Bourne, perhaps. Less hulk, more sulk.

Leading the way for such filmmakers as John Woo, Gus Van Zant, The Coen Brothers (view this, then screen the duo’s minimalist masterpiece NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN-eerie no?)…Melville fills the screen with many washed out, static shots, tracking the supposed arrogance of the title character, and the tumultuous existence he lives, displays and balances.

It is for all these reasons that I continue to re-watch this movie and turn people onto this otherwise unknown story, so that they too can experience one of the most calculated characters in modern cinema.3/5-AH

I also recommend these titles: Man Bites Dog, Un Flic, Les Diaboliques.

LE SAMOURAI

TIFF Cinematheque Presents – Les films de Jean-Pierre Melville

TIFF Cinematheque’s SUMMER IN FRANCE takes a different look this year with a Jen-Pierre Melville tribute.

 

Jean-Pierre Grumbach was born in 1917 in Paris, France, the son of Berthe and Jules Grumbach.  He took the name of Melville after the war, after his favourite American author Herman Melville.   His family were Alsatian Jews.  After the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Grumbach entered the French Resistance to oppose the German Nazis who occupied the country. 

 

After the war, Melville entered film directing, opening his own studio and initially making minimalist films.  His films are known for featuring thee great name French stars -Alain Delon, Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

 

His films have a characteristic look and bear common themes.  His themes are often gangster capers where double-crosses and prison (escaped convicts or gangsters coming out after serving their sentences) are tied into the story. Melville’s films are rich in film noir atmosphere and more than often a delight to watch.

 

For more information of the series, venue and ticket pricing, check the Cinematheque website at:

http://www.tiff.net/#series=army-of-shadows-the-films-of-jean-pierre-melville

 

CAPSULE REVIEWS of Selected Films:

 

L’ARMEE DES OMBRES (ARMY OF SHADOWS) (France 1969) **** 

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville 

 

Based on real experiences in the French Resistance, Joseph Kessel’s fiction novel is given worthy treatment in Melville’s 150 minutes film adaptation.  The centre of the piece is civil engineer Resistance Fighter Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) who at the beginning of the film is captured by the Vichy police and put in a prison camp.  A violent escape and other adventures allow the audience to be treated to the detailed exploits of the Resistance fighters.  Though not short of action and suspense (the best bit with the audience waiting almost two minutes waiting for Gerbier to execute his second escape), Melville effectively creates the mood of the desperation of the fighters and the atmosphere of the dangers of the times.  Simone Signoret steals the show as Mathilde, one of the chief organizers of the Resistance.  The film is well paced and flows smoothly from start to finish with the Arc de Triomphe in the initial and final shots.  ARMY OF SHADOWS is as meticulously plotted as one of Melville’s heist movies. 

 

LE DEUXINEME SOUFFLE (THE SECOND WIND) (SECOND BREATH) (France 1966) **** Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Melville shows in this crime caper about and scaled criminal Gustave Minda (Lino Ventura) that there is honour among thieves.  Gu (short for Gustave) is well respected in the criminal world for his expertise and loyalty.  He is given a job to do which he needs the money in order to escape to Italy via Marseilles where he can live the rest of his life.  But Inspector Blot (Paul Meurisse) is a cunning sleuth who eventually  puts all the clues together to fps out Gu.  As is most of Melville films, the elements of betrayal, prison, cop vs. crook, heist execution are all present.  his is one of the longer melville films running close to 2 hours and 20 minutes but with really a dull moment.  Both Meurisse and Ventura are excellent in their respective roles of cop and criminal.  It is hard to take sides of either.  This was Melville’s most successful film commercially.

 

DEUX HOMMES DANS MANHATTAN (TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN) (France 1969) ****

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

There are three reasons to watch Melville’s TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN.  The first is that it is a rare screening of the film, which is largely unavailable in other forms.  Second, this is the only film that is both directed and star Melville.  Melville plays Maurice, a French journalist in NYC, one of the two men in Manhattan.  He and Pierre Grasset play two French journalists in New York City searching for a missing United Nations diplomat.  In the process, they uncover some nasty bits on the diplomat, but decide to do the right thing.  The third reason to se the film is to experience the rich film noir atmosphere of this piece. Ironically, it’s is not a general crime caper, but there the typical crime element such as is – hunt for a missing person, dead bodes and coloured characters like the women in the life of the diplomat – an actress, a prostitute, a stripper and a jazz singer.

 

UN FLIC (France 1972) ****

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Deliciously wicked Melville.  The film begins with a quotation by Eugène-François Vidocq which is repeated by Alain Delon’s character in the film:  “The only feelings mankind has ever inspired in policemen are those of indifference and derision…”   Then Melville attempts and succeeds in proving the saying with his crime tale centring on flic, Edouard Coleman, played by Alain Delon in his first cop role for Melville after playing criminals in LE SAMOURAI and LE CERCLE ROUGE.  Alain Delon’s is just as violent and cool if not more than Clint Eastwood’s DIRTY HARRY.  This can be observed in the hilarious scene where he gets a classic trio of pickpockets to speak up.  There are lots to enjoy in this crime caper, the best of which is a suspenseful bank robbery at the Banque National de Paris in the suburbs of Paris in which one of the robbers is wounded by a bullet.  Melville includes nice bits like a Santa Claus informer, a common love interest (Catherine Deneuve) between flic and crook and American actor Richard Crenna speaking perfect French.  As expected, Melville’s film is rich in film noir atmosphere complete with wicked details like the crooked laid out lit windows of police station building.  More story and easier to follow than the usual Melville film and even more entertaining as a result!  p.s.  Is there a sexier couple than Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve?

 

 

Jean-Pierre Melville
Jean-Pierre Melville
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