Le Samouraï (1967)

Icy and aloof, hitman Jef Costello enters a night club, surveys the room, smiles at the chic woman playing the piano, proceeds to the back office and shoots a man. We don’t know the reason for the hit and we never do. 

The police are called and haul Jef and some others in for questioning and a line up. Some  witnesses’ think Jef is the one and and others insist he isn’t. The piano player knows he did it, but tells the police he didn’t. Why does she do that? 

Though Jef has ice water running through his veins, a beautiful red head agrees to give him an alibi and she sticks to it. The police sense she’s lying but even when they ransack her apartment, she sticks to her story. 

Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic Le Samouraï doesn’t feature any samurai’s. In fact, compared with Kurosawa’s or Tokuzo Tanaka’s samurai, you wonder what’s going on? Where’s his posse? Jef Costello is a loner par excellence, a ronin (i.e. a samurai without his feudal lord). Yes, up the chain Jef’s got a boss, but he has no idea who. We do. We see the big boss decide that someone needs to take Jef out. That plan goes awry because Jef’s that good. He’s unbeatable so the boss thinks maybe he is useful and should take on another contract. 

The police investigator admires Jef’s impeccable skills, but is determined to win. Yet his network of detectives can’t catch the elusive Jef. 

I haven’t seen a character this icy. He lives in near poverty in a dingy, gray apartment with a poor bird as his only companion. Even when he kisses significant other, no emotion registers. Yet he’s compelling.

Melville pares down the film to the minimum. Dialog is spare. Alan Delon, who plays Jef, took the role because when Melville pitched it to him, he realized there was no dialogue for the first 8 minutes. While it’s in color, the film mainly consists of grays, black and white. The only red is blood. 

By using the elements of silent films, Le Samouraï compels because it’s so simple, so stark.  

Cuban Scarcity vs. American Plenty

An amazing experience that makes you appreciate free markets.

No Fixed Plans

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Monk with a Camera

The documentary Monk with a Camera chronicles the spiritual journey of Nicholas Vreeland, whose grandmother was famed Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Early in his life Nicky was a stylish, well-heeled, privileged boy. He became fascinated by photography in high school and after graduating college became a professional. While traveling the world he photographed the Dalai Lama and became fascinated with Tibetan Buddhism. At the age of 31 Nicky went to India, knowing no Tibetan, where he joined a Tibetan monastery. 

The 2014 film recounts his life with interviews of Nicky and of his family, old photos and film of his monastery and trips around the world. Richard Here pops up a lot with commentary. He went from jet setting youth to an abbot of a Tibetan monastery. Much of the film concentrates on his effort to raise money to build a new monastery since the community had grown and was bursting at its seams. Reluctantly, Nicky decides to fund the building by selling his photos in world capitals.

I enjoyed the colorful landscapes and the beautiful photos. Nicky, his mentor and his family were insightful and kept my interest. I do wish the film delved more into the details of Tibetan Buddhism. I was left with questions about the daily life of Tibetan monks. I wondered if Nicky had any “dark nights” of the soul and if so, how’d he overcome them. Unconsciously, I guess I wanted a Buddhist Seven Story Mountain. Still I enjoyed and recommend this documentary. 

Zatoichi #1

My 2nd Zatoichi film.

No Fixed Plans

Salt of the earth, wily, dutiful, sharp, Zatoichi is a beloved character in classic Japanese film. After watching Zatoichi at Large, I learned that there are 27 films with this blind swordsman, who’s blind as the hero. I decided to start at the beginning with Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (1962).

Zatoichi arrives in a village looking for Sukegoro, a yakuza boss whose path he crossed. Before he meet with the boss, Zatoichi cleverly exploits the yakuza who are certain they can outwit this blind man, who asks if he can join their dice game. The wanderer wins a tidy sum, angering his opponents. Sukegoro is miffed when Zatoichi refuses to display his swords play to entertain the men, but the boss shrugs off the disappointment because he’s sure he can use his guest to beat his rival Shigezo’s gang and expand his own territory.

Shigezo’s top swordsman Hirate is…

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