Le Samouraï

I remember seeing a quote from one of my favourite directors, Jim Jarmusch. He is an inspiration of mine and there was an article with him released back in 2004. The article was about his golden rules of filmmaking. They included:

Rule #1: There are no rules. There are as many ways to make a film as there are potential filmmakers. It’s an open form. Anyway, I would personally never presume to tell anyone else what to do or how to do anything. To me that’s like telling someone else what their religious beliefs should be. Fuck that. That’s against my personal philosophy—more of a code than a set of “rules.” Therefore, disregard the “rules” you are presently reading, and instead consider them to be merely notes to myself. One should make one’s own “notes” because there is no one way to do anything. If anyone tells you there is only one way, their way, get as far away from them as possible, both physically and philosophically.

Rule #2: Don’t let the fuckers get ya. They can either help you, or not help you, but they can’t stop you. People who finance films, distribute films, promote films and exhibit films are not filmmakers. They are not interested in letting filmmakers define and dictate the way they do their business, so filmmakers should have no interest in allowing them to dictate the way a film is made. Carry a gun if necessary.

Also, avoid sycophants at all costs. There are always people around who only want to be involved in filmmaking to get rich, get famous, or get laid. Generally, they know as much about filmmaking as George W. Bush knows about hand-to-hand combat.

Rule #3: The production is there to serve the film. The film is not there to serve the production. Unfortunately, in the world of filmmaking this is almost universally backwards. The film is not being made to serve the budget, the schedule, or the resumes of those involved. Filmmakers who don’t understand this should be hung from their ankles and asked why the sky appears to be upside down.

Rule #4: Filmmaking is a collaborative process. You get the chance to work with others whose minds and ideas may be stronger than your own. Make sure they remain focused on their own function and not someone else’s job, or you’ll have a big mess. But treat all collaborators as equals and with respect. A production assistant who is holding back traffic so the crew can get a shot is no less important than the actors in the scene, the director of photography, the production designer or the director. Hierarchy is for those whose egos are inflated or out of control, or for people in the military. Those with whom you choose to collaborate, if you make good choices, can elevate the quality and content of your film to a much higher plane than any one mind could imagine on its own. If you don’t want to work with other people, go paint a painting or write a book. (And if you want to be a fucking dictator, I guess these days you just have to go into politics).

The fifth and last one was:

Rule #5: Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.” 

I bring up Jim Jarmusch because one of my favourite films of his is Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. It is a fantastic film. I was reminded of when watching Jean-Pierre Melville’s film Le Samouraï. It is greatly inspired by it and pretty much pays homage to the whole film but Ghost Dog is a Jim Jarmusch film, thru and thru. The plots to those two films are eerily similar but they are still two stylistically different films. Le Samouraï is a remarkable piece of French Cinema and it is pretty fair to say it has influenced every filmmaker that has made films after its release. It has inspired everyone, everyone from Jim Jarmusch to John Woo to Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino to Nicolas Winding Refn. You don’t get Ryan Gosling’s The Driver without Alain Delon’s Jef Costello. Alain Delon gives such an enigmatic and captivating performance. He gives you just enough to be engaged by his character without the need of so much exposition and backstory. There is no need for it and the audience is not clambering for it. It just gets right down to it. Le Samouraï wastes no time and I like that element. It jumps right into the action. It is a tightly written and directed film from Melville, he wrote and directed the film. It brims with a silently intense atmosphere and breezes along at a fast but arresting pace. A remarkable and influential piece of cinema.

Jef Costello is introduced right away in the film’s opening. He is lying in his downtrodden single room apartment and he has a pet which is a small bird. The sound effects come from the bird and most of the scene has no score. The first few minutes of the film are told with minimal dialogue as well as minimal music. Melville uses silence and the camera to their fullest advantages. He expertly shows us this man’s life and career and how he operates, this whole film is a perfect example of show don’t tell. He is an assassin who operates in a methodical manner always makes sure to have a tight alibi in his arsenal. There is barely any music in this film, and it adds to this tense emotionally detached atmosphere Melville is portraying in the film. We see Jef before he pulls the trigger on his target and we get some nice shots of Paris in the late 1960s and his whole meticulous routine and the people he interacts with. We understand his work and are intrigued by his character and Alain Delon makes this anti-hero so damn likeable and engaging. Everything up until the fatal gunshot goes smoothly. But Jef on his way out of a nightclub is seen by a witness and thus begins a cat and mouse game with the police and his employers. 

It’s interesting looking at the French New Wave in seeing how filmmakers like Truffaut and Godard created their own style and movement from watching films by filmmakers in America. They found their style and in turn influenced filmmakers who were up and coming in the New Hollywood scene back in the states. The editing style of Bonnie & Clyde is very reminiscent of the editing style of the Nouvelle Vague. Le Samouraï is a noir thriller set in Paris, and one could have easily made a film like this back in the 1940s. Alain Delon has the same cinematic presence as Alan Ladd and he could have played Jef Costello with Veronica Lake as his co-lead. It feels like a never-ending circle of influence and ideas, everyone is pretty much inspired by each other. This film set the groundwork for many filmmakers and showed how it could be done, but in their own way. This film feels authentic to Jean-Pierre Melville as the films inspired by it feel authentic to the filmmaker. Le Samouraï is such an exercise in showing you can create tension in the most simplistic ways possible. Melville also shows how things can always be ambiguous and not everything needs a backstory or needs to be overly explained. It takes the tropes of the American noir and gives it that New Wave twist. The film clocks in at 1 hour and 45 minutes and it feels shorter than that. The film flies by and that is not a criticism. It’s one of those films I have seen where I just want to be immersed in the film and inhabit myself in it. It’s compact, classy and most of all cool. It’s such a cool film and that is the general consensus with people when I have spoken to them about it. It’s slow when it needs to be but never feels sluggish or dragged out. This is exceptional filmmaking and no wonder it has inspired so many filmmakers.

Le Samouraï is a very stylish and tense neo-noir French thriller with a compelling performance by Alain Delon. It was my first experience with Melville and it was a great introduction to his style of films. I haven’t seen much of the French New Wave and I do really want to watch and get a hold of those films, as many as I can. Their stylings feel close to the kinds of films I like and ones that I feel inspired by. I feel greatly inspired by this film. Everyone should see this, not just if you want to make films.

  • Anders


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