Jean-Pierre Melville

Sog.: dal romanzo The Ronin di Joan McLeod. Scen.: Georges Pellegrin, Jean-Pierre Melville. F.: Henri Decaë. M.: Monique Bonnot, Yolande Marette. Scgf.: François de Lamothe. Mus.: François de Roubaix. Int.: Alain Delon (Jef Costello), François Périer (l’ispettore), Nathalie Delon (Jane Lagrange), Jacques Leroy (il killer), Cathy Rosier (Valérie), Michel Boisrond (Wiener), Georges Casati (Da Molini). Prod.: Raymond Borderie, Eugène Lépicier per C.I.C.C., Filmel, Fida Cinematografica, Tc Productions. DCP. D.: 105’. Col.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

I’m not interested in realism. All my films hinge on the fantastic. I’m not a documentarist: a film is first and foremost a dream, and it’sabsurd to copy life in an attempt to produce an exact re-creation of it… Le Samouraï describes several parallel worlds which never overlap but merely brush against each other from time to time.

Jean Pierre Melville, in A Samurai in Paris, interview with Rui Nogueira and François Truchaud, “Sight & Sound”, Summer 1968

 The inscription that opens the film – “There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle” – is a fake. It does not come from the samurai code or from any sacred text impregnated with ancient Japanese wisdom… For Melville, invoking an inexistent samurai code was like an anarchic joke. The film is a polar. Do you think that lacks the necessary refinement? Then here you have it, in the form of a citation. Nowadays, Le Samouraï has become a polar by an auteur filmmaker. But it still remains Le Samouraï.
Nevertheless, in its time, the film was an exemplary lesson: it was a metaphysical polar, obsessively respectful of the genre’s rules. The hero is alone. An evil surrounds him that is even more aggressive and contagious than that which the killer bears (even the horrendous cops are corrupted by it). The city is dark and offers neither salvation nor redemption. In short, all the traditional elements are in place. But there is also something different. Something subtly subversive.
And here it is: the pianist Valérie’s decision not to reveal to the cops that she has recognised the killer Costello is subversive. In the world of Costello’s facade (effectively embodied by Delon’s persona), a code of silence is part of the rules of the game. But only for the players. For those of the ‘milieu’. Tough guys, in other words… In the world of tough guys (and in the artificial code that Melville has imposed on hishero) there can be no understanding or sharing, much less a violation of the rules. Valérie’s refusal to incriminate him adds melodramatic pathos to the metaphysics of noir. But Costello is too expert a samurai (and Melville too detached a demiurge) to perceive even a glimmer of salvation. And so, only one ending is possible. And all that Costello can do is prepare himself for the moment of his death. And that iswhat Costello will do, conscientiously; obeying, in death as in life, the fake code that has always guided him.

Giancarlo De Cataldo, Il tempo della visione, in Jean-Pierre Melville, edited by Mauro Gervasini and Emanuela Martini, Il Castoro, Milan 2008


Copy From

Restored in 4K by Pathé and The Criterion Collection at L’Image Retrouvée laboratory, from the original 35mm negative