Le Samouraï is a gorgeous film that is almost definitively 1960s New Wave cinema. In the film, we follow Jef Costello as he tries to navigate the perils of the police and his employers stalking him after a botched hit. Costello is a lone-wolf assassin who balances allegiances with stealth and interpersonal political intrigue. With clockwork-accuracy, Jean-Pierre Melville builds a 1960s Paris universe from the ground up through the lens of his debonair, accurate, stealthy and deliberate contract killer. Costello can only be described as the stereotypical samurai of samurais in the hip French modernist style of the 60s. Melville’s Paris is a world that has never existed and will never exist again – a west-coast-cool Paris in a magnetic hour and a half visual love letter in beautiful color, stark composition, measured framing, gorgeous setting, and sharp costuming. This film, with its angular performances and obsessive shooting, is absolutely gorgeous – from where everything sits in the frame down to the meticulous detail of single gestures. As a “breathtaking work, stylized to the point of asphyxiation…(that has led) Paul Thomas Anderson via Quentin Tarantino and Walter Hill (to plunder) it as the veritable Bible of cool moves,” this flick is as snazzy hot as it gets, and it led Garrett to consider throughout the film, “boy was I born in the wrong year…” (Martin).
Seriously, the whole time I was like, “I was born in the wrong year.”
This movie is too cool for its own good. Alain Delon cuts through Paris with the accuracy of a razor. He is a sexy, sharp, cold man who commands every scene with a single glance. The result is a feeling of freshness and awe as he weaves in and out of the streets and the subways. He not only has command over the audience for the entirety of the film, but in much the same way, all of the characters around him are similarly captivated by him. More than anything, we seemingly feel like we are the ones who can empathize with being bewitched by Costello as much as those around him rather than empathizing with Costello himself.
The music, the costumes, the action, the suspense, the women, the deceit, and the ending all morph together to create a truly excellent film that was a pleasure to watch. Perhaps what is most beautiful about Melville’s film is its attention to detail and obsessive perfection. A true monument that freezes the 1960s in time – an almost hyperreal, perfect 1960s. The 1960s of dreams. The love, the awe, the splendor of 1960s Paris. It was all a great deal of fun to step in and be a part of for an hour and a half.
I watched Le Samourai on Criterion (#306) that featured two great interviews on the special features.