Le samouraï

Le samouraï aka The Godson (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)

In my warm up for my upcoming Seven Days of French New Wave I wanted to catch up with the French filmmakers that made films during the Nouvelle Vague years that weren't a part of it or considered as New Wavers. Jean-Pierre Melville has been very influential on the "auteurs" of the French New Wave, with his neo-noirs starring impassive leading characters wearing trenchcoats and hats. Melville's presence in the wave was resented as the presence of a big brother for all the young directors like Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, etc. He even made a famous cameo in Godard's À bout de souffle.

Le samouraï is the first Melville film I've ever seen, the fact that he wasn't a part of the New Wave was probably one of the reasons why I didn't watched any of his films before. Well, now I know I should have looked up Melville before. This 1967 release is an instant classic, the slow paced action, the dead pan face of Alain Delon's Jef Costello the Samurai theming and the wonderful simple but efficient cinematography took me 30 seconds into the film to know I would fall in love with this film.

Having read the Bushido many years ago, when I first saw Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, I completely understood the main character and the title: Le samouraï (The samurai). With only one reference to the title in the openning of it, Jef Costello is literally a samurai, always dressed like if it was the most important day of his life, with a clean trench coat, a well worn hat, always clean shaven and even when he gets hurt he'll take care properly of himself and clean his wounds himself. His final mission was a suicidal one an aspect of the Bushido that is more than central is the fact that the samurai must die in a valiant way by his enemies or by a clean suicide.
The direct influence of Kurosawa's samurai film is palpable not only in the Bushido references but also in the framing of the film that doesn't mistake at all. There is also the influence from the contemporary theme films of Kurosawa; The Bad Sleep Well, High and Low, Stray Dog. The kind of story where the details are more than important and the construction of the plot is strongly mastered. I will be discovering more Melville films in the next weeks because this is a filmmaker that diserves  my attention. He makes the kind of films I admire like Coppola's The Conversation, Pakula's All The President's Men, and Fincher's Zodiac. A must see!


  1. I agree on Alain Delon's screen presence in this film. Good write up.

    If you want an interesting double feature, also watch Jim Jarmusch's 1999 movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai starring Forrest Whitaker.

  2. Thanx Chip!
    I've already seen Jarmusch's film and it's a personal favorite! I guess the double bill could be awesome!

  3. Yes an absolute classic, Delon is just so cool in this.
    There is a French Blu-Ray coming in December that I will have to get.

  4. I'll have to get some Criterion Melvilles on my Christmas List!


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