Le samouraï Reviews
But he's 32. He doesn't want to be labeled as a pretty boy who somehow gets enviable parts any longer. So instead of saying thank you to his host's polite but slightly condescending introduction, he elaborates on the date of the film's opening. "It's this Wednesday." he smirks. Aware of his guest's snarky mood, the host tries to pick himself back up. "The posters are all over Paris, and they're very striking. 'Le Samouraï', in big, black letters."
"Red." Delon interrupts before his interviewer can even say "letters." He's seen it all before: the host who actually knows nothing about the film but pretends to love it, the host who puts on a grin in order to appease disinterested viewers. Maybe he would have let this fly in the past, but Le Samouraï is far too important to him. He believes it to be a turning point in his undermined career. This isn't just some fluffy movie audiences hear about on a television program like it's Dean Martin's newest vehicle; this is "a work of art," he puts it. "A true auteur film in every aspect."
He goes on to discuss the ins-and-outs of the film with the watchful eye of an obsessed movie buff, and it's unlike anything we've seen Delon do before, personally or professionally. He's always been the confident kid that whisks by with a hint of danger, an exotic woman by his side. This image, along with the entire introduction of this review, may or may not be dramatized speculation on my part, but when I picture Delon, I picture him as the guy from L'Eclisse, fiendishly charismatic but in a tug-of-war between boyhood and the idea of an adulthood in which being taken seriously is everything.
Jean-Pierre Melville uses Delon in a way most directors would be afraid to attempt. Before, Delon's charm was his selling point, but in Le Samouraï, his allure is snatched from him. Melville takes away any ounce of precious dialogue in favor of a more nuanced approach, forcing Delon to embody a particularly cryptic character mostly through body language. In the past, actors in gangster films have been able to mangle the script and somehow spike their delivery to sound more menacing than usual. But Delon has to do something even harder, having to exude invincibility all the while keeping an icy exterior. People turn towards scenery-chewing performances when thinking about characterizations that "moved" them; in contrast Delon has done something masterful with subtlety, undoubtedly more impressive than the booming Shakespearian actors that began to creep out during the 1960s.
He portrays Jef Costello, a hitman who secludes himself in stark landscapes in order to wash away any hint of an emotion. Famously, the film opens in a darkly lit apartment, completely silent except for a bird chirping every few seconds. Cigarette smoke dangles in the atmosphere while Costello liess on his bed, looking out his window with reflection. As Melville holds this shot for several uncomfortable minutes, the character is developed before we are even given the chance to hear his name. Whether he's a comedian or a Liza Minnelli impersonator or an assassin, we're witnessing an individual so drenched in solitude that the idea of loneliness may not even occur to them.
We see Costello go through his daily rituals, putting on his trench coat and fedora with strange precision, keying a car to get some extra loot, later pulling a job at a nightclub. Throughout the film, he doesn't show the slightest smidgen of a feeling. Is he numb? In denial? Truthfully, it doesn't matter. Though the storyline sees his normally smooth routine being interrupted by an investigation, he doesn't seem worried about the government closing in on his every move. He is so far into a life of crime that dying for his cause doesn't seem all that bad.
This is probably why the film is called Le Samouraï, as the samurais in all those Asian epics were more than willing to lose their lives in order to appease their reputations and their peers. Unlike Melville's earlier projects, Le Samouraï doesn't have the same blatant criminal romanticism. It's slick and crystalline, yes, but every frame carries enough tension to suggest that Dolph Lundgren might come out of the shadows and Machine Gun Kelly everyone to death. A tragic ending is a given. Silence is cherished in the film; along with Delon's moodless characterization, the facsimile of scenic solitude is furthered. The greyed-out style, Melville's intricate direction, and, of course, Delon's performance, work together with astonishing virtuosity.
The only complaint I ever find myself having with Melville films is how untouchable they are. They feel miles apart from us, detached, so stylish that we grow to be more appreciative than adoring. But there is no denying how great a filmmaker Melville is. "He's the greatest director I've had the good fortune, pleasure, and honor to work with up to this point." Delon dryly gushes later on in the Monsieur Cinéma interview. It sounds dramatic, but sometimes, melodrama can be true. Melville is not just a guy with a dream; he's a visionary, a poet of style.
I'd have to call this overrated and rather pretentious.
Jef Costello (Alain Delon), is a hitman who lives alone and has very little human interaction or real relationships. It's the code he lives by in order to remain professional. After completing his contract killing of a nightclub owner, Costello lets his guard down and is witnessed by one of the club's singers. Before he knows it, he's brought in by the police who suspect he's guilty but don't have the evidence to prove it. He's released, but the police are on his trail and so are his employers who now see him as a liability.
As the film opens we linger on a shot of a small desolate room containing only a birdcage and a bed. At first site, it appears the room is empty until you notice a man lying on the bed, smoking a cigarette and saying nothing. This opening shot alone, sets the tone for what is to come in Jean-Pierre Melville's fastidious and incisive near masterpiece. Melville wastes no time on backstory or over explaining the plot. He also has an aversion to dialogue but a very high inclination on style and content. What dialogue there is, is short and to the point. Things are as they are, and that's it. Although, this might sound like there's very little substance to be had here, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Despite, Melville's minimalist approach, the film is awash with symbolism and a deep existential core. This is a director that paved the way for French New Wave cinema, but when you look at his work here, you realise he wasn't as flashy as, say, Jean Luc Goddard or as disjunctive as Francois Truffaut. Melville opts more for restraint and meticulous detail. It's here that he's served perfectly in his leading man Alain Delon. Very rarely have I seen an actor do (and say) practically nothing yet remain so magnetic. Delon is absolutely superb and one of cinema's quintessential and most compelling anti-hero's.
Despite the obvious restraint from cast and crew, though, the film's not without it's moments of masterfully crafted tension. An exchange with the police as they try to identify Costello in a line-up is drawn out and quietly suspenseful and a brilliantly constructed chase on the French metro - which has influenced such directors as William Friedkin in "The French Connection" or Brian De Palma in "Carlito's Way". But again, Melville or Delon never overplay it. The tension is purely built on a sense of realism and grows from their reservation and seemingly stoic approach. When you break "Le Samourai" down a little, you'll see the inspiration that it's had on many films since; directors Jim Jarmusch and John Woo have openly declared the effect it had on them and their films "Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai" and "The Killer", respectively. Even Quentin Tarantino has claimed it to be his favourite gangster film.
It's easy to see why this postmodern, art-house, thriller has appealed and influenced so many filmmakers, as Melville manages to seamlessly blend Western crime folklore with the traditions and warrior codes of the East. He gives it that classic noir look and feel that was so prevalent in the American movies of the 30's and 40's and his vision of Paris' underworld (in desaturated colour) echoes that of American noir in his use of nightclubs, enigmatic jazz singers and dark streets and alleyways that reflect an almost war ravaged city.
Tarantino himself, is guilty of moulding a generation of crime loving cinema goers who expect gratuitous violence and have a propensity for fast talking mobsters. However, when you look back at the stylish and meditative work of Melville, you realise that in order to capture an audience's attention, you don't have to have Mexican standoff's or be talking about Big Kahuna burgers or getting medieval on people's asses with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. Simplicity can be just as effective.