Were one to adapt the life of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville in to a movie of its own they might be accused of implausibility. The man born Jean-Pierre Grumbach took on the mantle of “Melville” whilst fighting in the French resistance during the Second World War, before turning to cinema upon his return from conflict. It is with this in mind that the lean, minimalist stylings of his own work become all the more impressive. It’s almost as if it is a direct response to his own experiences.
As Melville’s best-known film, it’s somewhat amazing that Hollywood hasn’t yet remade Le Samouraï. Sure, it’s influence can be seen all over, in films such as Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, but the original remains the best and one of the great symbols of movie cool.
Opening on a shot of the sparse Paris apartment that the film’s protagonist, Jef Costello, a subtle figure pushed to iconic thanks to Alain Delon’s remarkable and slow performance, calls home, Le Samouraï’s initial beats lay out the manifesto for the rest of the production. Sparing detail and a futurist Noir score make for the most atmospheric of pieces, with Melville’s austere style reflects that of the meticulous Costello. Every bullet counts, every shot, both from a gun and from a camera, means something.
There’s a neat juxtaposition between the languid nature of the film’s opening act and the maximalist pantomime of an interrogation that forms much of the film’s middle section. Playing out in front of an audience, a police officer seeks to eek out Costello’s guilt, while a maze of rooms plays host to the obsessive detectives machinations.
This brief sojourn in to noise aside, Melville understands the importance of quietus. The silence of French cinema, from Tati to Rififi has long been held aloft, with Melville too a master of placing images and editing ahead of dialogue.