Paris is for lovers, and éclair connoisseurs, and culture-happy hedonists. Jef Costello, the taciturn protagonist of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 existential masterpiece Le Samourai, is none of those things. He’s a hit man and, as played by the impossibly handsome and sharply dressed Alain Delon, he takes his pleasure in the ritual preparation for his assignment. Le Samourai miraculously walks the line between absurdist parody (the hero sandwich of quintessential French actor, Japanese-style austerity and American moniker) and existential purity, making it the perfect choice to launch the BAMPFA retrospective "Melville 100" this Thursday, June 8 (with an encore screening June 16).
The rediscovery and revival of vintage film noir in recent years is a welcome development, but modern moviegoers tend to bask a bit too much in the genre’s trademark vagaries of fate and neatly crafted ironies. Melville had no room for cheap emotion or empty sentimentality; his experience as a young man in the Resistance snuffed any illusions he had about the nature of human beings. It also recalibrated his moral compass, such that true north had nothing to do with the law or the prevailing acceptance of social conventions. Melville was a genuinely uncompromising artist whose characters were relentlessly true to themselves. In these times, Melville is a beacon. BAMPFA's "Melville 100" continues through August 12.