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The solitude of the 'Samouraï'


Melville's mellow masterpiece

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By Alyson Brodsy and Chris Wisner



In 1967, French director Jean-Pierre Melville would make his masterpiece "Le Samouraï," a stunning examination of one hitman's solitary lifestyle influenced by the Japanese samurai code of the Bushido. \nJef Costello (French film legend Alain Delon) is a modern-day samurai -- replacing heavy armor with a raincoat, a fedora instead of a crescent-mooned helm and wielding a revolver in place of a katana. He is a gun-for-hire, a man who sits in his apartment room, without a care toward the outside world, waiting for the next contract and wad of cash to come his way. Costello's methods are untraceable -- as perfect as the death stroke from a samurai's blade -- but in his line of work, no one lives forever.\nSuch a description might not seem to give away much in terms of overall story and I do this on purpose. Melville's "Samouraï" demands to be seen not once but multiple times to catch every nuance within every passing minute. It is a perfect film crafted by a perfectionist, serving as an influence on countless films ranging from Luc Besson's "Léon" (a.k.a. "The Professional") and practically all of John Woo's Hong Kong output to even inspiring a rather shoddy revisualization by Jim Jarmusch with "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai." Melville is even considered by some the founding father of the French New Wave, directing his first feature film almost a decade before Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut began. \nThe DVD supplements are in every way as important as the film itself. The two video interviews, one with Rui Nogueira and the other with Ginette Vincendeau (both authors on Melville's work), bring great attention to how Melville directed his films, especially "Samouraï." There is a 25-minute collection of interviews: Melville on his filmmaking style, François Périer, Caty Rosier, Alain Delon and his wife Nathalie praising Melville's genius and also a special news interview with Melville. See during the filming of "Samouraï," Melville's own studio burned to the ground while still in production. This incredibly disastrous moment captures Melville unfazed, ready to begin rebuilding sets and resuming production. The disc itself is rounded out by the theatrical trailer. \nEssay booklets are standard fair with Criterion Collection releases and this one deserves praise. Scholar David Thomson's "Death in White Gloves" goes into great detail regarding the film's unique style, which, in "The Melville Style," John Woo finally gets to sing his praises for the French director, stating at the beginning "Melville is God to me." There is also a wonderful selection from Nogueira's out-of-print book "Melville on Melville" which has the director examining "Samouraï" even further. \nThe Melville style is one that will forever inspire countless filmmakers who go back to look at his baker's dozen body of work. While Melville suffered a heart attack at age 55, bringing his life and career to a premature end, his films live on. While "Le Cercle Rouge" and "Bob le Flambeur" serve as milestones in heist and noir cinematic history, and "Le Samouraï" clearly stands on its own, one can only hope that in time more of Melville's work sees the light of a DVD release.

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