French New Wave Week Day 1: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai

Today I watched Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967)

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This film tells the tale of Jeff Costello, a hitman played by Alain Delon as he navigates a bleak and duplicitous world.  He is pursued by both his own dishonest employers and the authoritarian police force respectively.  While the story beats may seem pure pulp, Melville approaches this subject matter with an intensely serious and psychological approach, crafting one of the absolute finest blends of high art depth with audience pleasing entertainment.

This film is very minimalist and quite procedural as it focuses on the details of the investigation and on the committing of crimes.  As the film is quite minimalist much of the important work of drawing in the audience lies with Alain Delon who is the epitome of cool.  His icy stare defines the sense of isolation this film presents and the dark, urban environment it transpires in.

This film is full of cinematic devices that have become so common we take them for granted.  Melville applied avant-garde techniques to this film but with it’s tempered minimalism it actually comes off as that form of hyper-realism common to all modern Hollywood works.  The rigorous focus to character psychology makes Costello a deeply sympathetic and human antihero and he would become a template for many such movies to come.

While I do not believe in such a thing as a perfect movie, Le Samourai is pretty damn close.  It is a methodical demonstration of how stylistic choices that had defined the arthouse could be turned to use in crowd pleasing entertainment.  It has a fascinating antiheroic protagonist who cuts straight to the core of the human condition while also delivering pure cool and style.  5/5

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