Le Samouraï

Le Samouraï ★★★★★

Watched on DVD

All that the viewer encounters at first glance in "Le Samouraï" (German title "Der eiskalte Engel"-The Ice-Cold Angel) is lifelessness. Paris in 1967 seems to be a place of general alienation: every trace of the so-called city of love seems to have been erased long ago. The streets are populated by people who are not interested in their surroundings, everyone lives for themselves and bypasses each other, only rarely do glances seem to meet instead of merely passing each other. Symptomatic of this interpersonal impotence, this omnipresence of emotional coolness, is therefore the scene in which main character Jef Costello (Alain Delon) gets a smile thrown at him by a passing woman. His reaction? A downright non-reaction. It seems as if Jef, should he ever have been able to, has completely given up on feeling.

Jean-Pierre Melville, who worked here for the first time with the iconic Alain Delon and created a classic that will last for centuries, skilfully manages to draw the viewer's interest to the intangible Jef Costello - precisely because Melville studiously avoids psychologising the modern samurai. We see in him what we want to see. We see a frozen creature, the shell of the human being has remained on the outside, but on the inside a mechanical system seems to rule and reign, subject only to the purpose of having to function. The fact that the French master director once declared that he was dealing with the clinical picture of schizoid personality disorder in "Le Samouraï" is just another facet in the individual mosaic of perception, but one that can be vouched for as conclusive on the basis of Costello's behaviour. And it is precisely this circumstance that explains the fascination that has always emanated from "Le Samouraï", which is staged in perfect minimalism: we are allowed to ask questions that the film does not answer. Not necessarily. Instead, we interpret who Jef Costello is, how he could become the machine that he is, and whether it was ultimately the even technicistic coldness that literally ravages the cosmopolitan city of Paris that poisoned Costello's heart and soul: He is the product of a ghostly time. Of a ghostly world. In a trench coat, with his collar turned up, his Fedora pulled deep into his face and a smoking Gauloises in the corner of his mouth, he follows his profession - killing. The fact that the now 85-year-old Alain Delon is the ideal cast for the stoic professional killer; the samurai without a master, is proven by the increasingly nuanced performance of the living French legend.

For although Jef Costello remains brutal and taciturn, there is always a spark of humanity in his appraising eyes. When he listens to the chirping of the bullfinch in his flat and looks into the cage, it becomes clear not only that the caged feathered animal has an almost unique liveliness, but also that Costello follows the bird's carefree activity with a certain longing: Man's freedom, it seems a utopia in "Le Samouraï"; a fallacy. And this is where the tragedy Jean-Pierre Melville speaks of becomes clear: inspired by the American gangster cinema of the 1940s and immensely influential in style for posterity, "Le Samouraï" is a study in loneliness; a film of silence, of hidden longing, of stunted hearts. Of eternity.

Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samouraï", which unbelievably has still not received an official home cinema release here in Germany, is quite rightly considered a style-defining classic of international cinema. The perfectly formed production, Alain Delon's nuanced acting and the way he deals with a world that is visibly alienating itself and its inhabitants is as fascinating then as it is now.

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