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: 00:08:59
Shoot during the day or near a window. That’s Christopher Nolan’s advice for how to work around lighting issues when you’re dealing with a budget. But what if it’s not the darkness you’re concerned about? What if you want to give the audience the feeling of lurking around the streets of Paris at night without making it look like you’re watching a movie?
While Melville had his own studio – till he didn’t and had to move the production to another one – he had the ability to recreate Paris apartments in a controlled environment, but there’s only one way to get that feeling of Paris at night. This scene of Costello and his dimmed headlights pulling up to an apartment complex is our first introduction to how Melville will the tackle the night in Le Samourai…he’s going to shoot it as it is.
What we saw during the French New Wave was filmmakers taking their love of Hollywood conventions and filtering it through a pared down perspective on narrative. They weren’t overproducing these films by shooting them on backlot sets with large crews and expensive equipment. They were taking to the streets and letting traffic roll by.
B-Movie and other Hollywood outsiders had been doing this to a similar degree in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, especially with films of the crime, horror and sci-fi genre, but they weren’t achieving the artistic success of their foreign counterparts who were being praised for making bold choices. Perhaps it was their proximity to the studios full of ‘stars’ that prevented these productions from being embraced as legitimate entries in the catalog of cinematic contributions at the time, but there was a real current of change rising and Melville was one of the most prominent figures pushing it in.
This shot, just before the 9 minute mark, is one you would never find in a Hollywood production. The night is not dark in the movies.