Code of Silence

The solitary man as complex antihero seems formulaic in Hollywood these days. However, at the time of its release, Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film caught an industry that thrived on glamour by surprise.

“One of the pleasures of Le Samourai is to realize how complicated the plot has grown, in its flat, deadpan way,” Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times said. Melville’s lead embodies silence as a calculated weapon He’s a man of action and few words. For instance, Jef Costello does not speak for the first 10 minutes of the film. Additionally, music is almost non-existent. Melville allows narrative to move forward through action.

“[Melville’s] style remains haunting and elegantly spare, just right for the kind of hit man who lives in silence, in bare and colorless surroundings, with a lonely caged bird,” Janet Maslin of New York Times said.

Within this code of silence, Jef embodies several classic archetypes such as The Hero, The Trickster or Fox, The Devil or Satan, The Scarecrow, and even Rebirth. In fact, all these archetypes clash within the character himself.

This character type who struggles with multiple archetypes has been seen in John Woo’s classic, The Killer, Jim Jarmusch​’s 1999 Ghost Dog, and, most recently, Ethan and Joel Coen’s 2007 No Country For Old Men. Moreover, these films as well as countless other Hollywood films have captured the meditative, loner hero trapped in his own mind. The augmented sound of birds only further illustrates how alienated our hero is from the world around him. Le Samourai’s dark and stark style created the foundation in which New Hollywood-era films thrived in the 1970s.

By Peter Suanlarm

Le Samourai screening this Wednesday,
August  17th, 7:30pm
L’Etage  / 624 South 6th Street / Philadelphia, PA
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