Le Samouraï (1967) Movie Review: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Smooth Attempt to Reveal the Grey Area of Morality

Hello, to all the people who are existing.

So, a few weeks back, I asked my friend, whom I consider to be ‘A Great artist of this era’, about his favourite movie. I wanted him to tell me ONE of his favourite movie, the word ‘one’ which I never got the chance of mentioning, as he was too excited to hear the words ‘favourite movie’. Now, I know, when he reads the first line, he will get jittery as he does not like being praised. But sincerely, I believe he is a reincarnated soul of artists like RabindraNath Tagore, Guru Dutt, and a substitute soul of Jim Carrey. There is no art medium that he has not laid his hands on, and succeeded; music, painting, poetry, writing (Check out his book Remember, Repeat, Inhabit), playwriting, directing a film, and the list goes on.

All that I have to say (and I know he says it too), Ron-bus or R#onbus (in Hindi it means Ron stop). No! Seriously R#onbus is the channel where you can experience a glimpse of his artistic style and musical adventures, check out his EP (Waiting Time) and let me know in the comment section below if I was exaggerating.

So, as he is he, and he likes movies, he ended up sharing four of his favourite movies back to back, and all of them are from different genres. Not only that, to add a cherry on top of the cake, he added one of his favourite series as well. Now, usually, one would get overwhelmed with so much information, but just because I have been friends with him for a while now, I have become used to he making me aware of overwhelming informations. (sometimes even of course informations that I miss, but when he tells me, it becomes overwhelming)

Moving on to his first favourite film, ‘Le Samouraï’, a neo-noir film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. This movie on the face sells out as a crime thriller, but beneath it all, the story revolves around a hero who manages to keep his humanity alive, especially, in the modern world where the concept of mankind is daily challenged and is questioned.

Watch the trailer of the movie:

  • Release Date: 25 October 1967 (France)
  • Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
  • Cinematography: Henri Decaë
  • Story by: Joan McLeod
  • Language : French
  • Alain Delon as Jef Costello
  • François Périer as the Superintendent
  • Nathalie Delon as Jane Lagrange
  • Caty Rosier as Valérie, the pianist

There is this brief scene almost in the starting of this movie where a woman parks her car next to the protagonist’s while waiting for the red light to turn green and she dips a little low from her car’s window sill to see the man (the protagonist) sitting in the car. The heavy rain obscures her vision, and also the identity of the protagonist. That is precisely how I witnessed the protagonist, Jeff’s (Alain Delon) character. I mean, the actions that he takes throughout the movie just merely indicates that he is a humanitarian, but however, one can never confirm.

This obscurity of the theme and the characters in this movie has more to do with its director. Jean-Pierre Melville leaned towards making movies that have a dream-like feel to them and further, he also wanted the audience to leave the theatre with a feeling of wonder; Did I understand this movie? What did the director mean?

I think Jean had some beautiful ways of creating magic in his viewer’s mind. I mean, the way he uses filmographies (at the beginning of the movie to show the unsettling inner struggles of the samurai by stretching the frame. Here, I would also mention the strain that the director went through to make a dimly lit and a close to black and white movie in coloured. Hence, the neo-noir effect), music (which played during specific unpredictable times and rest of the times, the viewers could hear the sound of everyday life- enhancing the intensity of certain scenes), and dialogue deliveries, (or lack of it) all enhanced the movie’s appeal by making it one of the perfectly shot film.

This movie is not only visually and sonically unpredictable. While watching this movie, an audience also cannot predict the sequence. As the story starts with a climax, action (a crime) like, in the movie ‘Fractured’ (Which I have reviewed- please go and indulge yourself), then after, the question remains, how will the director wrap up the story? That is where Jean-Pierre does his magic and that I believe he could do only because of the way he built the character of the protagonist.

Now, Jeff Costello is a character who is sharply aware of himself and the world around him, and just because he knows it a little too well, he keeps a low key, and not only because he is a hitman and his job entails. So, throughout the movie, Alain Delon mostly had a straight face or poker face. Interestingly enough, Jeff also has a pet bird whom he keeps in a cage; his companion in solitude and a well-wisher (I guess) who warns and alerts him of any danger. It is easy to fall into Jean-Pierre’s trap of defining the meaning of the bird. Some say it is a sign of Jeff’s humanitarian side, others say, that the bird is a reflection of Jeff, etc. Now, the depiction of Jeff’s pet bird could symbolize all of that but it very well could mean none of them.

Furthermore, the director leaves another place wide open for the interpretation of the audience, which is the motivations of the pianist, Valérie (Cathy Rosier), the key witness of his crime, to save Jeff. These unanswered questions make the true climax of this movie an interesting watch.

The most interesting thing is that, the true climax of the story is brought about by none other than the protagonist himself. The cops wanted to turn the story in their favour and the bad guys who had hired Jeff and then betrayed him also wanted the same, but it was the brave and the enlightened samurai who took the last call. I don’t want to give any tags to his actions or even interpret it, but all that was evident- that he releases Jane (Nathalie Delon), his mistress and alibis of the Superintendent’s (François Périer) harassments and Valérie free from the bad guys who she was living with. Even though I want to stay clear of interpreting the story too much and let the viewer’s make their own decision, I feel tempted to just point out a perspective that I have not come across in any review. I think, Jeff not only wanted to take revenge by killing the gangster boss but wanted to free Valérie from his clutches. Valérie could have been like the pet bird that he had for the gangster boss, Olivier Rey (Jean-Pierre Posier).

The problem with this movie, keeping in mind the current context of our time, is that it demands a lot of patience from its audience. So, this movie may not appeal to many audiences whose values have been tainted/habituated by the instant gratifications or easy release of tension which many of the movies offer these days readily. Another problem is that, this movie is in French language and finding this treasure of a movie with English subtitles is quite difficult. So, if you are interested in hunting treasures, now you know for what to search.

If you are tired of typical movies, that offers and expects similar responses from you, then this movie is sure to change that and offer a new flavour to your palette.

Until next time with another Ron’s recommendation.
Keep existing and enjoy!

Writer: Deepika Bhaduri
About: Movie Anatomie

2 thoughts on “Le Samouraï (1967) Movie Review: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Smooth Attempt to Reveal the Grey Area of Morality

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