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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