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: 00:05:08
I love to see the mechanics of a job, it’s one of the things that draws me to crime films.
The safe cracking scene in Thief. The getaway scene in Drive. The execution of the comp con in Hard Eight. All of Ocean’s 11 and Heat. These are the moments that endear us to characters on the wrong side of the law. They might be killers, but for a few consequence free moments we’re allowed to wander around in places that we’re clearly not supposed to be in, and while we’re there, we get to see just how good these baddies are at their jobs. It’s the thrilling element of a thriller.
These scenes are oftentimes the ones with the most amount of artistic flurry nestled within them. It’s when the filmmaker gets to show you just how cool they are.
As we hit the five minute mark of our still wordless story, Jef Costello is stealing a car. A 1966 Citroën DS 21 Pallas, whose owner just so happens to have walked away without locking the doors. Costello sits at the wheel and pulls out a ring of keys and begins to go through them one by one to see which one will work in this model. The scene cuts to a shot looking through the windshield as rain obscures the image of Costello attempting to look casual to anyone walking down the street.
If you were trying to tell the audience that even when you look this character straight in the eyes you still can’t see him clearly, this would probably be a good way to go about it. It’s beautiful, simple, effective and full of the energy that shooting on the streets injected into the films of the French New Wave.
Technology is a variable that has impacted cinema more than any other artform. The advancements in the motion picture industry over the last 50 years is staggering, both behind the camera and in front of it.
How many Hitchcock films could be made today in the world of cell phones? Now what about car alarms?
Could you consider leaving a car unlocked on the streets of Paris directly in front of our hero a plot convenience? Perhaps, but this is a film that relies on deliberate pacing, and I don’t think it would benefit anyone to show the popping of a lock before we see the ring of keys come out. The scene is not about him having the skills to heist a car, it’s about the mask he wears while he does it.