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Le Samourai

" Like a painter or a musician, a filmmaker can suggest complete mastery with just a few strokes. Jean-Pierre Melville involves us in the spell of `Le Samourai' (1967) before a word is spoken. He does it with light: a cold light, like dawn on an ugly day. And color: grays and blues. And actions that speak in place of words."

"Costello [played by Alain Delon] is a killer for hire. The movie follows him with meticulous attention to detail while he establishes an alibi, kills a nightclub owner, survives a police lineup, is betrayed by those who hired him, and becomes the subject of a police manhunt that involves a cat-and-mouse chase through the Paris Metro. All the while he barely betrays an emotion."

``'There is no solitude greater than a samurai's,' says a quotation at the beginning of the film. `Unless perhaps it is that of a tiger in the jungle.' The quotation is attributed to `The Book of Bushido,' which I was disappointed to find out is fictional--a creation of Melville's. The quotation and the whole pose of the Costello character are meant to suggest a man who operates according to a rigid code. But as Stanley Kauffmann points out in his review, `a samurai did not accept commissions to kill merely for money: honor and ethics were involved.'''

"Here the honor and ethics seem to be Jef Costello's loyalty to himself; a samurai was prepared to die for his employer, and Costello is self-employed. Perhaps he should have taken his text from a real book, `The Code of the Samurai,' from 16th century Japan. It begins with words Melville might well have quoted: `One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind, by day and by night . . . the fact that he has to die. That is his chief business.'''

"One of the pleasures of ``Le Samourai'' is to realize how complicated the plot has grown, in its flat, deadpan way. With little dialogue and spare scenes of pure action (most of it unsensational), the movie devises a situation in which Jef is being sought all over Paris by both the police and the underworld, while he simultaneously puts his own plan into effect, and deals with both women."

"Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) was born Grumbach but renamed himself after the American novelist. He was a hero of the French resistance. After the war, by starting his own studio and making independent films on small budgets, he essentially pointed the way for the French New Wave. ``I'm incapable of doing anything but rough drafts,'' he once said, but in fact ``Le Samourai'' is as finished and polished as a film can be." ------ Roger Ebert

DVD - The Criterion Collection

  • Widescreen
  • Available Subtitles: English
  • Available Audio Tracks: French
  • New video interviews with Jean-Pierre Melville historians Rui Nogueira and Ginette Vincendeau
  • Collection of excerpts from archival interviews with Melville and actors Alain Deon, Cath Rosier, Nathalie Delon, and Francois Perier
  • Theatrical Trailer

Curator's Comments:
Read Roger Ebert's essay on this DVD Classic.

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
101 minutes
Released: 1967
Rated: PG

Country: France/Italy
Language: French with English subtitles
Genre: Thriller, Crime, Drama


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