Le Samourai

Most people watch movies for story and character and plot and action. There is much to be excited by - lots of things to look at and emotions to feel. Then, there is minimalistic cinema, which is the absence of all of these things. There are characters, but they don't express much. There is action, but it is slow and hollow. There is such a feeling of restraint that it is almost painful. It is pretty incredible - to hold oneself back and create films while so tightly wound. Le Samourai, directed in 1967 by Jean-Pierre Melville is one such film.

It follows an uptight hit man, Jef, as he conducts his life. He lives in a minimalist apartment. He never changes expressions. He lives and dies by a strict code that he is created for himself. One day he makes a mistake during a hit - people see him leaving the club. He starts to become trapped as the police move in to catch him. Expressionless and emotionless, he must try to evade.

There is something that struck me as incredibly "cool" about Jef. Not that he is like, awesome, but just cold. Icy. Easy. Smooth. He doesn't seem fazed by anything. He doesn't seem to care that his living conditions are so stark and painful to be in. He just exists, and has no feelings for it. Alain Delon is outstanding. He somehow can act in what would normally be an action film with action sequences and yet show no expression. I am not an actor, but I can barely stop from laughing when people try to pose me for pictures, let alone keep a stoic expression on my face, ever. I guess part of my love is my lack of understanding of how someone could be so emotionless. I'm so emotional  that I cannot relate at all, and it is so fascinating to watch it.

I really like restrained cinema. Like Lars von Trier's Dogville, a  film made entirely with chalk building outlines on the floor. It exists to fight against everything that is conventional in cinema. I don't know enough about minimalist film to make a statement about why it exits. I just feel like something so rigid and stoic has to be fighting back against something, anything. As Ebert says in his essay, "There is nothing absolutely original in ``Le Samourai'' except for the handling of the material. Melville pares down and leaves out" (The Great Movies, 273). To only have your style be unique must be point. What that point is, I cannot say. But I like it. I like how different and unexpected this movie is. That a crime movie can be sort of boring and blah - I never would have thought!

I guess I could only reccomend this film to people who really are into unique styles of film. Lars von Trier comes to mind because his style can be so off-putting if you aren't in it to just watch...his style. For me it's worth watching, because it is so unique and interesting and strange, but not everyone wants that out of a movie, which is fine! Let me know if you decide to check this out, though, I'm curious what others think.

Have any of you seen Le Samourai? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Le Samourai


Lawrence of Arabia