Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Le Samourai (1967)

The film opens on a long shot of a dirty, sparsely furnished apartment. A bird chirps on the soundtrack. Smoke fills the air, and we notice that there is a man, lying on a bed, perfectly still except for his arm, bring his cigarette up to his lips. This is Jean-Pierre Melville's masterpiece, Le Samourai, which has french gangster extraordinaire Alain Delon walking around France for an hour and a half, refusing to talk to people. So when he starts to make conversation, you know something must be wrong.

Talking about this film's plot is pointless - even if it wasn't pointless it would be impossible, as most of the characters don't really know what is going on, and the one's that do aren't saying anything. A hitman performs a hit, someone sees him walking out of the room, and the police look for him. That is the film's plot, with a few diversions about the people the hitman is working for, and their various reactions to the police being on his trail. I complained a couple of days ago about the backstory stuff in Shoot 'Em Up - no such problem exists here.

What matters in the film is not plot, but the style in which the 'plot' unfolds. Alain Delon walks around Paris with so much economy of motion, you'd almost swear he was on jet-propelled roller skates. He barely makes a facial expression when he gets shot in the arm, just dispassionately washes and dresses the wound, then goes right back to wandering around. His main antagonist, the police investigator, however, moves like he hopes that more movement equals more case-solving. This dichotomy - that between under- and over- moving, makes up the bulk of the film, but neither turn out to be effective. The only thing that is truly effective, in the context of this film, is fate. And death.

Watch the two scenes in which Delon goes to see the mechanic, who changes the number plates of the stolen cars. In the first one, Delon exits his car, stands against a cupboard perfectly still, and smokes. He hands the man a wad of cash, gets in his car, and drives away. No words were exchanged. In the second scene, Delon stays in the car. He still has that economy of motion, but now his face is betraying him - he is afraid. The mechanic leans in and says, "this is the last time." And we know he is about to die, as surely as when Katherine Ross leaves in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Delon replies, "okay." He knows too.

This is a great film. If I have one problem, it is the fact that when Delon shoots someone, we see him taking his hands out of his pockets, empty. He cut to the other man's face, and he cocks his gun. Cut back to Delon, and he is now holding his gun. Why is this there? I don't understand the point of it. But apart from that five seconds of film, this is great.

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