For Reel

Le samouraï (1967)
May 24, 2011, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

A deliberate craftsman, Jef’s detached composure serves the film in a way that contradicts one’s expectations. Rather than divorcing the audience emotionally from the proceedings, he earns our respect and admiration – an element perhaps only possible with a lead as charismatic as Alain Delon.

Although Jef is regularly discussed in criticism as being systematic, the film also parallels Jef’s craft with the police force’s sophisticated, almost mechanical operation. The witness selection process is calibrated to perfection, and the slightest fault with a testimony is not forgiven until thoroughly investigated. Perhaps, then, one could surmise that Jef has an admiration for the law – in the end of the picture, his final decision is one which shows that he hasn’t underestimated his enemy. Melville argues, however, that despite their efficiency, they lack Jef’s honor (his code), as the superintendent is characterized as manipulative and purely perfunctory, whereas Jef eventually shows humanity if only in the situations in which he is compromised by a stronger foe.

It is unclear whether or not Jef is content. Though he lives with dignity, Melville parallels his own seclusion with a bird in a cage – one of the few decorative elements of his empty apartment (later revealed to serve a purpose as a security system). His sex life is non-descript – his one female companion seems to serve more regularly as an alibi than as a partner. Perhaps the interest he takes in the pianist can be seen as his Achilles heel, just as Bob of Bob le flambeur was ultimately undone by his own vice. Though his final action is depicted as being honorable, one must question whether or not Jef did ultimately neglect his code, effectively castrating him and leaving him with one option left.

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