Friday, January 16, 2009

Le Samouri: One Viewing, Two Reactions

I did something I'm not proud of. Midway through Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouri (1967), I stopped the film and fell asleep. I know, I know. How could I? But at that point, after watching about fifty minutes, I was feeling seriously underwhelmed.

Melville's film features little dialogue; the central character, the ice-cold hitman Jef Costello (Alain Delon), speaks maybe ten times (you'll have to check me on that, but I can't be far off). And when the characters do talk, it's often with a level of cool detachment. Here Melville lets his scenes stretch, sometimes in near silence. Watch as Costello drives a stolen car into a garage and waits as the plates are changed. Watch as policemen break into and bug Costello's apartment. Watch as Costello eludes his pursuers in a lengthy subway chase. Again, watch all this in a frosty quiet bordering on silence. At the risk of sounding like a whiny scumsack with his fingers languishing half-way up his asshole, viewing this film became a trying experience for me.

But wait! I can redeem myself. A few hours later, I returned to this film. I didn't start from the beginning again (though I should have), but I did enjoy the remainder of the film. A lot. I mellowed out and, for want of a better phrase, allowed every scene to "wash over me." Suddenly Costello was too cool for words. Good thing, because he still didn't say much at all. Suddenly the long sequences I once found arduous became tense and exciting. Had I not been lying down, I would have been on the edge of my seat during a scene in which Costello suspects something amiss in his apartment. And when the final scene came, I found it immensely satisfying.

So why the change of heart? Could it be that I watched the rest of it in a different room? Could it be that I was simply too tired to enjoy it on my first attempt? I guess it doesn't really matter. I guess if there's anything anyone can learn from this, my first and admittedly amateurish post here on this blog, it's that a film's quality or content may not be enough to inform your opinion of it. In most cases, it's the attitude you, the viewer, bring to it.
--Kevin Kern

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