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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