Welcome to Project 77, a series in which we will examine some of our favorite films by breaking them down and analyzing what we see every 77 seconds on screen.
First up, Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 French Noir Masterpiece, Le Samourai.
Le Samourai: 00:02:34
Do we always believe what we see in a first pass? And how does that impact our consumption of cinema?
The first movement of the camera in Le Samourai is the point of view pressing in on Jef Costello in his room. This vision of a man laying on a bed with a bullfinch in a cage was apparently the genesis of the story for Melville. As we alluded to in the previous posting, Melville wanted Costello’s apartment to feel icy and cold. This isolation is apparent, and the starkness of the room is shorthand for us to immediately grasp the nature of this character, removed from the world around him. This is what enables him, as we’ll soon see, to do the things he does.
The prologue for the film featured a quote from The Book of Bushido that read: “There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai, unless perhaps it be that of the tiger in the jungle.”
Just as the camera moves closer into the frame, so do we on this prolonged analysis as I’ve noticed for the first time the black and white matte painting outside the windows that create the illusion of a neighborhood. How does a black and white painting pass for the real world in a color film?
That quote, like the matte painting of the city outside the window, and the daylight pouring into the frame, are not real. Melville manufactured all of them.
The idea of making a color film in black and white was an experiment that intrigued Melville at the time. He felt black and white was on the way out, and making a film using that stock was too dangerous because of the financial risks it would create for investors, but he loved the idea of creating the illusion of black and white with one thing in the scene remaining true to life as a reminder for the audience that it was still a color film.
Ain’t that something, the bold use of black and white.
I like everything about this shot. It reminds me of the back cover of Leonard Cohen’s album, Songs From a Room. Is Costello the Bird on the Wire?