Le Samouraï

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #306: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.


In a film like Le Samouraï, “never” means “al­ways”. When the po­lice in­spec­tor says that he never thinks, we know he is al­ways think­ing and when hit man Jef Costello [Alain Delon] says he never loses we know he’s al­ready lost every­thing. This film is a study in cool; the smooth con­trol that so many of us strive for, and which of­ten trans­fers awk­wardly on film, comes across here as nat­u­ral and es­sen­tial. Melville re­ferred to Costello as a schiz­o­phrenic, but to me he ap­pears more so­cio­pathic than any­thing else. I think the rea­son his cloak of cool is so au­then­tic is be­cause of this neu­ro­sis. Melville also said he was try­ing to make a black and white film us­ing color stock and the greyscale of much of the film en­hances the coiled equi­lib­rium of Delon’s char­ac­ter.

Dialogue is as sparse as color, and when color be­comes vi­brantly present we feel that Costello is in a place he should not be. This is as­sisted by the fact that he looks like a three day dead corpse in the best of light. That adds to the grave cool­ness. Despite his metic­u­lous pat­terns, he is a sloppy killer. There are 5 wit­nesses to his mur­der, and al­though is al­ibi is air­tight, he even­tu­ally faces the mu­sic we all know is play­ing for him.


What is re­ally in­ter­est­ing is the way you can feel the hand of the di­rec­tor, show­ing, not hint­ing, but ul­ti­mately as ob­jec­tive and heart­less as the as­sas­sin. But where it is pos­si­ble to sense tightly reined emo­tions in Costello, Melville seems bereft of them all. The film is de­fined by what it lacks, it is al­most a doc­u­men­tary, it makes no ex­cuses for what it can and can­not show, and leaves it to us to draw our own con­clu­sions.

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