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Entries in Delon (1)

Wednesday
Nov162011

JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE'S LE SAMOURAI

A Puff of Smoke: 
Like Leone’s Westerns, Le Samourai invents a genre while transcending it.

Jean-Pierre Melville’s cool Zen-noir, in which style and substance are so intertwined as to be inseparable, relies a savoring of noir conventions, on deafening ambient sound (no silent room in any film was ever louder than the many silent rooms in Le Samourai), almost no dialogue and the willingness of the viewer to be entranced (that is, the film is really slow).

Alain Delon plays a mysterious hitman; the movie opens with a shot of an apparently empty room. We only know Delon’s there when he exhales a lungful of Galoise Blue. Thus Melville lets us know from the get-go that Delon’s character is all myth—he has no more reality than a puff of smoke. Yet, he’s fascinating…Delon’s pulls a contract job, leaves a witness alive, visits his mistress, steals a car, uses his pet canary to detect eavesdropping equipment left in his bed-sit by blundering cops, steals another car, beats the living daylights out of a couple of French hoods and takes a very long, complicated ride on Le Metro. The effect owes more to Bresson than Bob Le Flambeur (Melville’s comedy of manners masquerading as a bank-heist flick).

Delon and Melville are after transcendence, a Zen doing so perfect that the task becomes irrelevant. Both achieve it. This work of genius has been a Holy Grail for noir-heads, Melville devotees and uh, transcendentalists for years. Our suffering at the hands of shit VHS copies & grainy French-format imports is over. Film Forum showed an awe-inspiring print last year; now Criterion has brought out the DVD version the film deserves. Features include an interview with Rui Noqueira, author of Melville On Melville, archival interviews with Melville & Delon, and an essay from David Thomson. These add value and insight to the film. Go buy it right now.