I first saw Alain Delon in Zorro when I was around 11 and was swept away. Recently perusing a list of Top 100 best foreign films, Le Samourai popped up. Great!
I’ll say off the bat that this is a film buff’s movie. If you need fast action and lots of special effects you will be bored silly and hate it. In fact, the most animated character in the film is an agitated, caged bullfinch. A man of action heart throb in Zorro; he’s stony cold with dead eyes here.
And yet, here are some review snippets:
“I was completely blown away. This movie can be summed up with one word: minimalism.”
“a blend of stylistic and thematic excellence”
All while being darned close to a silent film the dialogue is so sparse.
Still reading? Here’s the tricky part– the movie won’t really much sense until the end. You have to keep watching.
The plot is simple: a hit man’s job is not clean, there are witnesses including a piano player who looked him right in the eye. So his employer isn’t pleased, the cops are darned sure they’ve got their man but they don’t absolute proof. The employer wants him dead, cops are following him and harassing his girlfriend (Delon’s wife at the time, Nathalie, considered one of the most beautiful women in the world at the time) to admit her alibi for him is a lie.
The film begins with a quotation from the Bushido, the samurai code “There is no solitude greater than a samurai’s, unless perhaps it is that of a tiger in the jungle.” Delon’s character, Jef Costello, moves with purpose, seemingly devoid of emotion. I’d hazard that the Terminator was modeled after this performance. Unrelenting and calculating.
The film itself– considered perfection by film-makers for it’s use of color, timing, atmosphere, camerawork and locations. At a time when films were shot on sets, this was a notable departure, being shot on locations in Paris, but not a Paris that you’d recognize from iconic photos– it’s mostly subways, stairwells, narrow streets.
My favorite scene is the first one. A dim room so still you wonder if it is a photograph. A hint of movement, there is a haze of smoke. Where is it coming from? Oh! There is a man on the bed blowing smoke rings. This moment capture the feel of the whole film– action and non-action, a gorgeous minimalist canvas (honestly, the colors of the walls and texture are mesmerizing) that speaks without words.
For more info at Internet Movie Database: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062229/?ref_=ttmi_tt
Perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/le_samourai