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Le samouraï (1967)
A technical masterpiece, but...
Le Samourai is definetely a very interesting film to talk about. Alain Delon plays Jef Costello, a killer who becomes a suspect after killing someone he doesn't know and his boss wants to get rid of him because he thinks he might be a threat due to the police. The visual storytelling in this film is remarkable, there are several scenes in this film where there is no dialogue for a few minutes and the viewer still perfectly understands what is going on. The opening scene in particular stands out in that regard. The music is great and the acting is pretty solid too. The camerawork is also fantastic and the cinematography is mostly good aswell (although the interiors are definetely way too dark at times). So, what's so "not great" about this film?
I don't find the story compelling or gripping at all. A lot of scenes are unnecessarily drawn out and serve very little purpose. There's a scene where 2 policemen install a bugging device in Jef's bedroom and for some reason, this scene feels like it's 15 minutes long. What makes things worse it that Jef finds the bugging device right away, which means the previous scene, while it was still beautifully shot and made, served no purpose, since it doesn't change the outcome of anything. There's also a scene where the police officer (forgot his name) goes to Ms. Lagrange's home and asks her if she still says that Jef was at her house in the night of the murder. She replies "Yes" and the officer leaves her house. What was this scene for? Everyone knows as much as they knew before. The officer even says that he doesn't quite believe her and that he will talk with her again, but he never does that in the film, which also creates a loose end in that regard. There's also Michel Boisrond's character, who supposedly "saw" Jef while arriving at Ms. Lagrange's house and then he is asked to identify him in a group of several men. He is able to identify him, but how is he able to do that? The film made me believe that he didn't know Jef at all and if he did the film should have said that. There's another weird scene: After the police officer lets Jef leave the police station, Jef goes to the Jazz Club where he murdered that guy. Now WHY would anybody go back to the place where he killed someone? Isn't he in danger of being spotted or recognized by someone in the club? So many scenes in this film have very little credibility to me and I don't find the characters interesting at all either.
So, while Melville is technically definetely a great director, I don't quite know his skills at creating good stories (because I haven't seen any of his other films) but I still have very mixed feelings about Le Samourai.
The peak of Hitchcock's career
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is currently number 1 on the Sight and Sound Critics' Poll and number 9 on AFI's Top 100 and it's honestly really not hard to see why that's the case. It is, in my opinion, Hitchcock's best film and one of the best movies ever made in general.
Vertigo is definetely one of those films that gets better with every viewing. At first, I was expecting the usual Hitchcock Thriller, but this is something much more than that. It is a very compelling Mystery Thriller with a good story and slow pacing in the first half and a great love story with one of the best twists in cinematic history in the second half.
When you know the twist (Gavin killed his wife and wanted Judy Barton to play his wife so that Scottie would believe she killed herself) the first half becomes even better because you can try to find out how Hitchcock tricked you into believing that Scottie was following Gavin's wife all along and the film becomes even more admirable. During every scene with Gavin and Scottie you will be able to analyze how Gavin made Scottie believe his whole story, and this becomes better when you look at the way some of the scenes are blocked. There are of course many themes like love, obsession, and how Scottie falls in love with the idea of Gavin's wife and not herself and having so many themes on top of having a "normal" Thriller as the main narrative is really difficult to achieve, making Vertigo's Screenplay one of the greatest Screenplays ever written.
Almost every aspect of Vertigo is flawless. As I have said before, the writing is incredible, but the same thing could be said about the acting (especially James Stewart), the characters, the cinematography and the music. The music is arguably the best of Herrmann's career and perfectly fits the twisted and surreal atmosphere of the film. It also sounds a bit "insecure" if that's the correct word, especially "Scene d'Amour", one of the best pieces of music ever created for a film, because it perfectly describes Scottie's character. The cinematography is beautiful; especially in the opening scene and in the Golden Gate Bridge scene. Saul Bass' title sequence in combination with Herrmann's incredible score once again shows Scottie's future obsession and the surreal aspects of the film, perfectly capturing everything Vertigo has to offer. The film also has many iconic scenes, especially Scottie's Nightmare, which is very well made considering Vertigo came out in the 1950s. The ending is one of the most heart-breaking experiences for any character ever. Scottie lost the woman he loved and he also lost his Vertigo. So in the end, he is in the same situation as before the film started; he has no wife and no Vertigo. And yet the viewer feels sorry for him because of all he had to go through, just because Gavin wanted to get rid of his wife.
Hitchcock also used colours as a way of conveying information that wouldn't be possible in a Black and White film. There's one scene where Scottie sees that the only thing "wrong" with Judy is the colour of her hair (he wants it to be blonde). Of course, seeing the "wrong" hair colour wouldn't be possible in a B&W film, so Hitchcock made the film in colour, not to make the film more mainstream, but to be able to convey information that would be impossible to convey in a Black and White film, similar to what Fritz Lang did with sound in his film M in 1931.
In the end, Vertigo has one of the greatest Screenplays ever written, with an extremely complex and deep story about love & obsession, it has a great cast, excellent cinematography and music, so many iconic and unforgettable scenes and one of the best endings of all time, which is why it is one of my favourite films of all time and undoubtedly my favourite Hitchcock film.