Le Samouraï opens to a shot of rain beating onto the window of a darkened room. At the corner of the frame, a puff of smoke emanates from a lit cigarette. An occasional shrill chirp is heard from a caged bird. The rest is silence. An impassive man, Jef Costello (Alain Delon), rises from the bed, dons his trenchcoat and fedora, and leaves the room. On the street is an unlocked car. He sits in the driver’s seat, produces a set of master keys from his coat, and methodically tries each key until the ignition starts, then speeds away. He then visits his lover, Jane Lagrange (Nathalie Delon) in order to arrange an alibi. But she is meeting her suitor, a respectable older man named Wiener (Michel Boisrond) later in the evening, and will not be able to provide him with a complete alibi. A second stop at a back room poker game is needed, and Jef has an alibi for the remainder of the evening. Soon, his actions become clear; he has been hired by an anonymous syndicate to kill the owner of a popular night club. However, things do not go according to plan. On the way out of the owner’s office after the murder, he is spotted by a number of employees, including a lounge pianist, Valerie (Caty Rosier), who stares him in the face. However, in a puzzling turn of events, Valerie will not identify Jef as the killer despite her clear recognition of him, and the inspector (Francois Perier) is compelled to release him. Meanwhile, the syndicate learns of Jef’s police detention and, troubled by the potential discovery of their association, hires a second contract killer to silence Jef. Now hunted by both the police and the syndicate, Jef is forced to rely on his own instincts to survive.
Jean-Pierre Melville creates a precise, taut, and elegant film in Le Samouraï. Jef’s inscrutable, Bressonian demeanor (note the similarity of Jef’s countenance with Michel’s in Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket) is reflected through the use of austere colors (blues and grays), inclement weather, and pervasive silence to create an unnatural and unnerving atmosphere. Furthermore, the repeated image of the caged bird, the police interrogation and surveillance, and the pursuit in the Paris Metro (intercut with disorienting images of the position indicators lighting the intricate subway map), contribute to a sense of entrapment, as Jef attempts to evade everyone while pursuing Valerie, believing that she holds the key to the identities of the anonymous syndicate. Inevitably, Jef finds himself returning to the scene of the crime, to confront the enigmatic Valerie, and in the process, face his own destiny.
© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.