The Iceman in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï (1967) November 8, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films, Literature.
English Title: The Godson
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon
That face that can murder oblivion, that face that defies your reverence to mythological gods, that face that can launch a missile to your heart and run you out of air, allowing you to gasp innumerable times, gasp every second of your life while driveling, such handsome package of niceties endowed to a man of supreme attractiveness, his fatal suave in a random twitch of an eye, a stare so lethal it can only be the utmost pleasure of unreciprocated love, how pathetic if you haven’t seen it once in your life – – that face of almightiness – – bestowed on a man who awfully deserves such gift; thus if 60s cinema is divided into two distinct images of men, it will always be Alain Delon and the other, Alain Delon and the other universe of faces, everyone drowns around him. Of course that is not to reduce him into an elegant piece of furniture in a cozy living room, or a spotless plate in a molecular gastronomy presentation, but no way he became an icon just because of his looks; he earned the eminence.
Without reading the synopsis, the stupid in me thought that Delon will hold a samurai the same way Cruise did five years ago in his storybook butchery of Bushido, dishonoring it unforgivably, glorifying it in pretension. Melville’s cutthroat precision, however, decodes the samurai’s creed and presents it in a modern-day tale of a hitman caught in circumstances of vague beginnings and vaguer ends. The mystery pulls you in – – the first act entrances, the middle solidifies that grip – – until it comes to the hardboiled conclusion, the mood so intense and morally affecting that it makes you want to run to the shootout and hug Alain Delon’s corpse. Simplicity is the hardest to achieve in storytelling, yet Melville makes it appear so easy – – he eschews vapid display of action; everything in Le Samouraï moves without you knowing it, because the slow-motion trick is not with the film speed – – it’s in the story, behind those expressionless characters. The treatment gives you the fear of losing a single frame, for such loss costs a lot, perhaps a smile from Costello or a blink of his eye, or a revelation from that enigmatic pianist. If you seek for tedious explanations, then watching this is a wasteful effort, no food for anxieties here. If Alain Delon’s icy presence and the story’s diabolical violence fail to suit you, then you better have your senses checked for your own good. Le Samouraï is for the staunch believer of limitless greatness in cinema, where every second spent is worthy of every ounce of blood that flows from our veins of unquestioning appreciation, our firm loyalty to beautiful films that achieve more by showing less – – and just for that reason we exist.
* for Ayn Dimaya