Thursday, March 30, 2006

Le Samourai


Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville (Bob le Flambeur)

Out of the saddle for a bit doing my job, and this one has been waiting to get blogged.

Melville surpasses his already very good Bob le Flambuer with this noir about a hitman on the run. It has everything you would want in such a movie; tension, a well crafted mystery, cat and mouse between the cops and the hoods (and the hoods among themselves), hard boiled dialogue and fast characters. What this film adds is a reflection on the "code" of the hitman, the stoic resignation to fate and duty that the legendary fighters of the movie's title famously held. Just that little twist, hardly noticeable on the surface of the movie yet always informing the decisions of the characters, makes this film very unique and quite special.

Alain Delon plays Jeff Costello with such minimalism and reserve that he seems almost emotionless throughout the film. Under the lights of the cops, in the presence of a beautiful woman, double crossed and shot, for Delon the coolness of this worldy hitman overcomes all problems. It would not be at all inappropriate to call it "Zen like," as that sort of reservation is exactly the point for Melville. Costello's nemesis is a Superintendant played by Francois Perier who is the opposite. Highly talkative, expressive, he tells us his fears and joys. Costello lives in the shadows, hardly noticeable, as the film's breathtaking opening shot expresses perfectly. He has to live that way, he is a hitman, like Eastwood's "Stranger" in High Plains Drifter. He does his job and moves on. Delon and Perier together make a powerful tandem.

The cultural clash here is fun to watch. American, French, and Japanese elements and allusions pervade the film, and the result is highly entertaining and surprising genre film. Melville's ability to walk that line between homage and parody is rare, and in this case highly rewarding.