The Bird

So much can happen in the space between.

We are given time in every film to reset ourselves…to take advantage of a quiet moment or an establishing shot and take a breath. But every breath is a moment to look and to listen. It’s a chance to gather our thoughts and take stock of what has happened and what it means for what’s about to happen. These moments encourage reflection, observation, and scrutiny. So much can be drawn from such a state of mind – so much can be achieved. What if an entire film lived in that mindset…in that “space between”?

LE SAMOURAI is the story of Jef Costello (Alain Delon). Jef is a contract killer who lives alone in a sparse apartment. One night we watch him as he carries out a hit at a Parisian nightclub. The hit is successful – which is to say his mark is killed – however he is seen and identified by far too many people to make a clean get-a-way. The piano player, the hat-check girl, the bartender…seems as though everybody in the club got a good look at Jef. Amazingly though, he eludes arrest – mostly because all of these witnesses cannot agree on whether he is or is not the perpetrator of the crime.

While all of these onlookers might not be enough to get Jef arrested, they are enough to shake the confidence of his employers. With too many variables for comfort, the gangsters who put out the hit for Jef to undertake soon put out a hit on him too, leaving us to wonder whether it’ll be the cops or the robbers who eventually make for Jef’s demise.

The Piano Player
In many ways, the title I assign to this series is often apropos. Several times over through the course of these selections I have, in fact, been “blindsided”. Sometimes it’s by way of visual splendour, sometimes emotional impact, sometimes witty writing. LE SAMOURAI joins the ranks of the films that truly blindsided me – this time with patience. The film begins by underlining that there is no solitude greater than a samurai’s, and just to underline the point, it puts us into that head space. At almost every turn, it makes us wait…and wait…and wait. Never in a way that makes the film feel slow (far from it, actually).

No, what all that waiting does is make us look closer.

While it has its fun focusing on the lone gunman and his comings-and-goings, it seems to take equal joy in dropping us into crowded scene after crowded scene. We wander through the crowded nightclub, where no-goods and hangers-on create a perfect smokescreen for any number of misdeeds. Then we’re taken to the police station, where similar suspect after similar suspect are trotted out in the hopes of nailing the right one. Eventually, we’re sent into the subway, where we need to keep our eye on our man as he tries to elude capture.

It’s as if it knows how little concentration we have; how fallible our memories have become and how instantly we want out gratification. It has no interest in feeding that craving of ours. Instead it wants us in our place…emulating the samurai and the restraint he embodies.

The Meeting
However, just when I had resigned myself to this film leaning back and making me come to it, something unexpected happened. The film gives us a second shooting – this time between our hero and one of his crooked employers.

The shooting itself isn’t what’s shocking, after all we know that both men are armed and dangerous. No, what’s shocking is the vantage point from which we see the shooting take place. We’ve been right with Jef from the very beginning – always arm’s reach away. All of that methodical manner and self-control we’re being force-fed? It’s been easier to swallow because our hero has been standing beside us with his hand on our shoulder from the word “go”. Yet, all of a sudden there is a betrayal. Within the story, there is the betrayal of Jef by his contracted employers. The decision has come down that there are too many loose ends and the bargain must be violently terminated. That would be betrayal enough.

Along with it though, we suddenly feel as if our safety net has been pulled away…the training wheels kicked out from under us.

This quick and violent act isn’t witnessed first hand – not played out in front of us. No, all of a sudden we are shoved on to the passing train and see it all unfold in the time it takes for the trolley to make it under the bridge. It’s like seeing someone jump in front of the train from the opposite platform. All we can do is powerlessly call out in shock. It’s upsetting, and even unsettling. After so much time of being preached the gospel of patience, we are forced to run past in a rush.

Few other moments in the film feel that kinetic, and because of that it plays like a jolt to our system.

The Car
There’s a chase through the Paris Metro later on, which is thrilling, but never jolts us in that same way. It has the film going back to its methodical nature – wanting us not to ‘keep calm and carry on’ as the poster goes.

Perhaps at the end of the day there’s a lot to be learned from that sort of calm and calculated disposition. We’re in an age, after all, where so much in life is wickedly manic and emotionally charged. We speak in hyperbole and take pride in being the loudest person at the table. Leaders and followers, artists and critics alike. The time for measure and judgement has passed, and now it’s all about instant reaction…whether that reaction is the right one or not.

That attitude is in our films as well, where action films seem to compete for the highest amounts of edits, and comedies try to get their jokes off at a pace akin to a tommy gun. Perhaps in the face of all this emotion, all of this knee-jerk reaction, there is much to be learned from the way of the samurai. Living by reflex puts us in the position of all those eyewitnesses who stare into the face of the criminal and cannot identify the perpetrator despite looking square at them hours earlier. Living by practiced approach on the other hand allows us to see that something is amiss because a caged bird is chirping more than usual.

Many years ago, it was only the greatest warriors that had the attention to detail to live this sort of life. Nowadays, it takes a warrior just to sit through the story!

Blind Spots

I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for May so far…

Beatrice watched CASABLANCA

Courtney Small watched THE LIFE & DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP

Josh watched L’ECLISSE

Fisti watched BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Jandy Stone Hardesty watched both PREDATOR and DAYS OF HEAVEN

Katy Rochelle watched THE MATRIX

Ruth watched THE APARTMENT

Andrew Robinson watched SHOLAY

Andina watched ALL ABOUT EVE

Jay Cluitt also watched ALL ABOUT EVE

Mette Kowalski watched REAR WINDOW

Chris watched DUCK SOUP

Dani Eide watched OLDBOY

Dan Heaton watched MOULIN ROUGE!

Brittani Burnham watched REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

Philip Bender watched THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

Will Kouf watched FIVE EASY PIECES

Sean Kelly watched CASABLANCA

Mariah watched THE INNOCENTS

Cristian Bordea watched LA DOLCE VITA and SOLARIS

Shantanu Ghumari watched SAFETY LAST