Sunday, January 11, 2009

Le Samouraï (1967)

Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) directed thirteen feature films between 1947 and 1972, most of them ranking among the best in postwar French cinema. In particular, his brilliant gangster films Bob le flambeur (1956), Le Doulos (1963), Le Deuxieme souffle (1966), Le Cercle rouge (1970), and especially Le Samourai (1967), with their cool, minimalist noir style are defining instances of the French policier. A great Americanophile, the idiosyncratic Melville, who renamed himself after the writer Herman Melville, used to drive round Paris in the 1960s in a Stetson hat and a huge convertible American car. Le Samourai is the story of Jef Costello (Alain Delon), a Parisian contract killer who realises he is being double crossed by his employers and seeks revenge. The film was highly controversial at its release in 1967. The prestigious Cahiers du cinema dismissed it as ‘just another thriller’ and later preposterously claimed Melville would be better employed making commercials for raincoats – at the same time, more enlightened critics compared him to Picasso in his modernity. Today Le Samourai is, rightly, regarded as one of the greatest French films.

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