Blu-ray Review: Le Samouraï

The cool and collected Jef Costello

During the 1960s and 1970s, Alain Delon was one of the most iconic faces of European cinema. He made a string of eye-catching films with famous directors, including Antonioni (L’Eclisse), Visconti (The Leopard), Clément (Plein Soleil) and Losey (Mr Klein). However, it’s probably his work with the great Jean-Pierre Melville which remains the most feted. Le Cercle Rouge, Un flic and their first film together, Le Samouraï.

Jef Costello (Delon) is a taciturn hitman who is planning a new job. Wearing his trusty trench coat and fedora, he walks through his alibi, assisted by his fiancée (Nathalie Delon) and card-playing associates. The crime goes to plan until he encounters a pianist (Cathy Rosier) as he’s making his escape. Despite an inconclusive identity parade, the police commander (François Périer) is convinced he’s guilty and his employer is looking to tie up loose ends.

Le Samouraï is an exercise in studied cool. Melville’s neo-noir classic is framed by one beautiful shot after another. Delon strolls through each scene, his tacit confidence slowly ebbing away and being replaced by startled panic. Melville affords his rōnin a certain degree of mythos, riffing off 1940s Hollywood gangster films and drenching his character is popular French Culture. With a clever script and adroit execution, Le Samouraï remains a masterpiece of 1960s European cinema.

Special features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Interviews from 2005 with Rui Nogueira, editor of Melville on Melville, and Ginette Vincendeau, author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris
  • Archival interviews with Melville and actors Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, and Cathy Rosier
  • Melville-Delon: D’honneur et de nuit (2011), a short documentary exploring the friendship between the director and the actor and their iconic collaboration on this film
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar David Thomson, an appreciation by filmmaker John Woo, and excerpts from Melville on Melville

La Samourai is released on Blu-ray in the UK as part of the Criterion Collection on 6 December.

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