Thursday, April 4, 2013

Le Samouraï

I've been wanting to see Jean Pierre-Melville films for a while now and recently acquired a Criterion edition of Le Samourai. I loved every minute of it.

The first roughly ten minutes have no dialogue and set the mood for the film. A man is lying on a bed in a sparse apartment smoking a cigarette. This text comes on screen: "There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle... Perhaps..." The lone man, Jef Costello is an intensely methodical hitman who only speaks when it's needed and seems to value solitude more than those around him.

During a hit at a nightclub, he meets the gaze of a woman while leaving the room of his victim. He is seen leaving by several witnesses and is pulled in by the police along with countless others matching the description. Due to his method, he has an airtight alibi: he drove to the club in a stolen car, he disposed of the gun afterwards, and he has a woman who is more than willing to testify that he was with her at the time. Witnesses are unsure if he is the person that they've seen and the only woman who clearly saw his face, claims that it wasn't him. Why does she lie for him? Why was he hired for this specific job? Will his cool demeanor hold up to an overzealous police detective who is convinced he is the killer?

I don't want to spoil anything but the story is quite satisfying and trying to understand the characters and their motivations will bring me back to this again. Color (often the lack there of) and shading are used wonderfully in the locations, sets, and clothing throughout. Sound and music are used in a similar way to set the feeling for everything we see. There aren't any camera-tricks or jump-cuts here; lots of individual shots are quite long and work well to pull you into this world. There's no ironic self-aware humor to the noir-style in Le Samourai either. It may not be realistic to believe that 1960s france had men walking about in trench-coats and hats but the setting is believable in much the same way that a dream is believable while you're in it. Ultimately, I think that's what Le Samourai is: a very cool dream.

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