“Le Samouraï” (1967)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Production Company: Filmel
Language: French
Length: 105 Minutes

  • New video interviews with Rui Nogueira, author of Melville on Melville, and Ginette Vincendeau, author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris
  • Archival interviews with Melville and actors Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, and Cathy Rosier
  • Theatrical trailer

“I never lose…not really.” – Jef Costello

If there ever was a film that could be summed up by one phrase in it, it is Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï” (1967). It certainly helps that the main character, assassin Jef Costello, speaks barely fifty words in the whole film.

The above quote truly sums up everything that “Le Samouraï” is about. The film, like just about every other one you’ve seen about an isolated, cold-blooded killer, drives toward an end that is destined to happen from the start. Costello, played by Alain Delon, knows where he is going the entire time – you get the sense right off the bat. He cannot lose. No matter where the movie goes, he wins because he knows where that is. I’m not going to tell you the destination…because that would give it away.

What makes “Le Samouraï” different from all the other cold-blooded, contract killer movies, aside from the fact that it’s one of the first, is the fact that Melville is the director. I have yet to see any other film by him but after seeing this film, I definitely realize that I must see more of his work. Melville, who created this film from the ground-up, grabbing at whatever American gangster influences were in his tool-box and molding them with the classical Japanese myth of the lonely samurai warrior. Costello is cool, calm and collected – he is hardly ever seen without his classic fedora and overcoat, like he just walked out of “Casablanca”, but his detached mannerisms make him seem like he is from another world. Even when he is with the one person we expect him to be comfortable with – his girlfriend, played by Delon’s then-wife Nathalie – he seems completely out of place.

Melville approached his own material with a minimalist style. Words are only said when necessary and there are many long sequences that go on without words, although this is simply because they aren’t needed. You get the feeling that Costello (and Delon himself) is ‘too cool’ for words. There is one line that kind of irked me upon first viewing. It is kind of a spoiler, so don’t read if you want to see this. During the last time Costello steals a car (he steals a different one for every contract) and goes to get the license plates changed, the mechanic says “This is the last time, Jef.” Is this a necessary foreshadowing? Also, what gave the mechanic any idea that it was the ‘last time’? They never spoke before, so I found this line to be a little odd. Also, there are enough signs given by Melville that it will be the ‘last time’ that I think any foreshadowing is kind of an insult. We already know where the story is going – we just don’t know how we’ll get there.

In 2005, Criterion gave “Le Samouraï” a Region 1 DVD release for the US and although, this seems like the perfect film to get a two-disc treatment, it is given just a single disc. However, the two main features on the disc are substantial enough to forgive Criterion for this decision. “Authors On Melville” features historians Rui Nogueria (who gets ten minutes) and Ginette Vincendeau (20 minutes) talking about Melville’s impact on the French film industry and control over the film. Vincendeau is much more interesting, however, as her part focuses more on “Le Samouraï” than Melville himself. “The Lineup” is similar to most Criterion “From The Vaults” features, where short clips from news reports and TV shows from around the time of the film’s release are compiled together. “Le Samouraï”’s feature runs a quick 24 minutes. Also included is the quick French trailer.

I also have to give a mention to the art designers of the packaging. They certainly did their job, since that beautiful cover art is the reason I bought this!

The Verdict: This film is easily the foundation for the lonely assassin films that we see today, so if you like those films, this is a definite purchase. However, it seems slow at times, so if you aren’t patient, this film might not be the best for you.

2 thoughts on ““Le Samouraï” (1967)

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