47 FILMS: 41. LE SAMOURAI
In our continuing series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams we present Jean Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Le Samourai.
Before Leon and Nikita, before The American and Grosse Point Blank, the coolest hitman who ever lived to do one last job was Alain Delon’s superlative Le Samourai. Jean Pierre Melville was a director so enamored of American culture that when fighting in the French resistance, he adopted the surname of the author of Moby Dick and following the war the nom de guerre became a nom de plume. Le Samourai is thoroughly in love with American movies. Or at least the still pictures you can take from American movies. It’s pace is French, languid and hypnotic. It is as taciturn as its main character Jef Costello. Jef lives in a spartan room like the opening of a Kafka short story or the beginning, middle and end of a Samuel Beckett one act play. He carries out his contract killings with a fastidious eye to detail. He obtains an alibi for every crime with his girlfriend (played by Natalie Delon) but is betrayed by his employers, who try to off him.
With a bullet wound and the police on his trail, Jef doesn’t know who to trust. His loneliness now goes from being an ‘existential’ problem to an existential problem. Such is the plot. Any one who’s read a crime anthology will have hit upon the story somewhere. Probably several times. It’s an excuse really for Melville to invent a Parisian world of cool iconic seriousness. Delon is impassive. A man almost entirely defined by his hat. It’s almost ridiculous.