' ' Cinema Romantico: Le Samourai

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Le Samourai

For anyone who feels current movies are too much of too much, that they are too gaudy, too over the top in their filmmaking, too stacked with jump cuts and narrative tricks and oblique camera angles, then, for God's sake, I direct you to French director Jean Pierre Melville's 1967 small masterpiece "Le Samourai" at once. Never in my movie-watching existence have I seen a movie so completely stripped of pomp. It's only circumstance. It's about only what it's about, which is to say it doesn't masquerade as anything beyond its most basic story.

It's difficult to review this film because in a review you're supposed to give some general sense of story and then hint at the bigger picture, except in "Le Samouri" there is no bigger picture. Let me try to explain: it opens with Jef Costello (Alain Delon) on his bed in his drab apartment indulging in a cigarette (which he will do quite often as the film progresses). He gets up. He leaves. He goes to a car. He gets in. He drives away. He arrives at a garage. A man switches out the car number and hands Jef a gun. Jef drives away again. He arrives at the apartment (Nathalie Delon) and only now - ten minutes in - does he speak. Then he leaves. He goes to another apartment. A poker game is in progress. He confirms how long they will be playing. He leaves. He goes to a nightclub. He sneaks into an office in back. He shoots a man. He leaves. He....wait, wait, wait, wait! He shot a man?! Yes. Yes, he did. I was matter of fact about it, just like the movie. The movie is insanely matter of fact. You want a show? Go to Vegas. "Le Samourai" is like the most inside-access documentary ever made.

There is one modern day movie I can think to compare it to and that's the Coen Brothers masterpiece from last year, "No Country For Old Men". Not all of the movie, mind you, but specifically many of the scenes involving Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin). Remember how often it just lets Llewellyn go about his business? The camera kicks back and watches how he sees the cars far below in the canyon. He checks it out. He finds the drug deal gone wrong. He finds the one guy who made it away from the scene. He waits him out. He finds the money. "Le Samourai" is this scene expanded over an hour and a half.

I'll sum it up this way, if a team of normal filmmakers and the minds behind "Le Samourai" were asked to make a film about a guy who steals some fireworks, shoots them off, runs away, and gets caught, the normal filmmakers would show the guy stealing fireworks from someone he used to know which would involve much dialogue relating to his moral dilemma and then spend five minutes showing the fireworks shoot off before having him run away with a girl who was impressed from afar by the fireworks leading her to approach him and ask his name and then take him to a nearby farmhouse to hide out in the attic before the authorities closed in at which point a lengthy shootout would occur before he gets run over by a tractor.

The makers of "Le Samourai", however, would show the guy steal fireworks, shoot them off, run away, and get caught. And it would be much more involving.

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