Le samouraï Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Well-Executed French Neo-noir

Directed and co-written by Jean-Pierre Melville, Le samouraï stars Alain Delon, as professional hitman Jef Costello, whose detached coolness, which makes him so good at his job, becomes his downfall when police (correctly) believe he murdered a nightclub owner in this well-executed French neo-noir.

Buy Le samouraï Criterion Collection Blu-ray

But it’s not solely Jef that is cool. Melville and his crew have created an entire film that is cool with its minimalist approach. The production design mainly uses neutral colors, black, gray and beige, starting with Jef’s apartment and his clothing. Jef has little use for small talk and ten minutes go by before there’s any dialogue.

He is methodical in his planning. He steals a car and has the license plates altered. He visits his girlfriend Jane (Nathalie Delon, Alain’s wife, in her acting debut), and then a private poker game, stating the times he was “at the locations” to establish his alibis. He goes to a night club and kills owner Martey. He is seen leaving by the club’s piano player, Valérie (Cathy Rosier), among other witnesses. He heads to Jane’s so he can be seen leaving her apartment building by her boyfriend Wiener (Michel Boisrond). Then to the poker game.

The police bring Jef and other suspects in for a lineup. The witnesses can’t agree if Jef was the killer, some even suggesting the assailant looked different. He is released but the Commissaire (François Périer) has him followed. Not only are the police tailing Jef, but the man who hired Jef now wants him killed since he’s a suspect in Martey’s murder. While trying to evade both groups, Jef has mysteries to solve because he doesn’t know who hired him nor why Valérie didn’t identify him to the police.

Melville and co-screenwriter Georges Pellegrin have crafted a captivating crime drama with a story that engages the viewer even though most of the characters are disengaged from each other. The ending is a surprise yet the outcome seems inevitable. The film is well paced, edited as sleek as Jef making his way through the metro system when the police are tailing him.

The film has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The liner notes reveal, “This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine from the 35mm original camera negative and a 35mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management.”

The image has film grain that is very noticeable in low-light scenes and looks clean and bright in well-lit scenes. The solid, dull hues of the neutral color palette come through well as do spots of rich hues, such as the reddish brown furniture in Commasire’s office. Blacks are inky and whites are accurate. The image presents a sharp focus, texture details, and good shadow delineation.

The audio is available in LPCM Mono. “The soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the 35mm magnetic audio track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.” The dialogue is clear, and is balanced well with composer François de Roubaix’s score, the diegetic music of the nightclub, and the ambient effects, such as cars passing on rain-soaked streets.

The Special Edition Features are:

  • Authors on Melville:
    • Rui Nogueira (13 min) – The author of Melville on Mellville talks about Melville as “the father of the French New Wave, how the director worked, and the making of Le samouraï.
    • Ginette Vincendeau(19 min) –The author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris talks about the director’s career and his evolving style with a focus on Le samouraï .
  • The Lineup (24 min) –Originally broadcast on French television between 1967 and 1982, interviews of Jean-Pierre Melville, Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon, Francois Perier, and Catrhy Rosier along with a news clip of the fire that occurred at Melville’s Rue Jenner studio.
  • Melville-Delon: d’honneur et de nuit (24 min) – Directed by Olivier Bohler in 2011, this documentary focuses on the friendship between Jean-Pierre Melville and Alain Delon, who made three films together.
  • Trailer (4 min) – Original French trailer.
  • The 30-page booklet features an essay by film scholar David Thomson, an essay by filmmaker John Woo, and excerpts from Melville on Melville.

Le samouraï is arguably one of the best noirs put to film, and Criterion has put together a release as cool as the main character. The high-definition presentation impresses and the extras allows fan a slight look into the production and its participants.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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