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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • French PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New video interviews with Rui Nogueria, author of Melville on Melville, and Ginette Vincendeau, author of Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris
  • Archival interviews with Melville and actors Alain Delon, Francois Perier, Nathalie Delon, and Cathy Rosier
  • Melville-Delon: D’Honneur et de nuit (2011), a short documentary exploring the friendship between the director and the actor and their iconic collaboration on this film
  • An essay by film scholar David Thomson, plus an appreciation by filmmaker John Woo and excerpts from Melville on Melville

Le samourai

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jean-Pierre Melville
1967 | 105 Minutes | Licensor: Editions Rene Chateau

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #306
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: November 14, 2017
Review Date: November 13, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

In a career-defining performance, Alain Delon plays Jef Costello, a contract killer with samurai instincts. After carrying out a flawlessly planned hit, Jef finds himself caught between a persistent police investigator and a ruthless employer, and not even his armor of fedora and trench coat can protect him. An elegantly stylized masterpiece of cool by maverick director Jean-Pierre Melville, Le samouraï is a razor-sharp cocktail of 1940s American gangster cinema and 1960s French pop culture—with a liberal dose of Japanese lone-warrior mythology.


PICTURE

Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le samouraï finally receives a long overdue Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion, presented again in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.

Sadly Criterion hasn’t given the film an all-new restoration and instead are using the same high-def master used for their previous DVD edition, which was scanned in high-definition from the 35mm original camera negative and a 35mm interpositive. This is a bit of a shame but considering the alternatives currently available this is actually a bit of a blessing (more on that later). Though it’s still open to improvement I have to say I was rather impressed with how this has turned out, a majority of it looking fairly film-like and natural. Details are really good throughout, improving quite a bit over the DVD, delivering better looking textures in clothing, building exteriors, and so on, and this is true in both close-ups and long shots.

Where the image ends up being weaker is in some of the film’s darker sequences. Black levels look decent but details can get crushed out, and film grain, which actually looks pretty strong in the film’s brighter scenes, comes off a bit coarser, even noisier, during these sequences, almost like the image has been sharpened a bit. This is where it becomes more obvious we’re looking at an older master. Some of these dark scenes, like the opening shot, can also look a bit murkier but that may be intentional on Melville’s part.

Criterion has also done further restoration, removing some blotches and marks that were present on the old DVD: I don’t recall much remaining.

Of course the big question is how does it compare to the rather infamous Pathe Blu-ray, which made use of a *new* 2K restoration? After seeing screen grabs for that release, which showed a brutal, heavily filtered image, I passed on it, to the shock of no one I’m sure, so I haven’t seen it first-hand. But one of the features on here, a 2011 documentary made for that Pathe release, contains clips from the film using that restoration and now having seen it in motion I’m seriously at a loss for words. In all fairness the feature on here has been compressed but if those clips even represent an inkling of the quality of that release it is easily one of the biggest cock-ups I’ve seen. Everything is so flat and waxy, no textures at all. One shot shows Cathy Rosier’s character wearing her leopard print jacket and it looks like a painting. Various objects have a painted look to them, with piss-poor blending. But that’s not even the worst of it: one clip comes from a scene where Jef is standing in the rain but you can barely see the rain drops because they’ve been wiped out due to excessive processing. Good God, it’s awful.

Though Criterion’s presentation is open to improvement at least I can see the rain drops. At least that leopard print looks more natural. At least this looks more like a film and not a cut-scene from a video game. Criterion’s master is almost a decade older than Pathe’s yet it does look substantially better, at least compared to the clips from that version found in one of this release’s special features. Yeah, I wish Criterion was able to do a whole new scan and restoration, but this final presentation is still pretty solid.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless PCM 1.0 mono track is clean and free of any severe distortion and noise, but I still found it a bit flat and lacking fidelity. It gets the job done but that’s about it.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion ports over the features from their original DVD while also adding a newer feature found on the Pathe Blu-ray in France. First up are two interviews under Authors on Melville, one featuring critic Rui Nogueira, author of 1971’s “Melville on Melville,” and scholar Ginette Vincendeau, who wrote 2003’s “Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris.” Nogueira, who first praises Le samouraï as Melville’s masterpiece, talks a little about the film’s production and moves on to Melville’s work as a whole, even mentioning his studio (which unfortunately burned down). Vincendeau’s interviews is longer (19-minutes to Nogueira’s 13) and probably a bit more in-depth. She talks about the American films that more than likely influenced him, how he worked with actors like Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Lino Ventura. She also breaks down a few quick sequences in Le samouraï, looking at the editing style. They’re both decent but Vincendeau’s contribution seems to have more meat to it.

The Lineup is a collection of archival interviews featuring Melville, Delon, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier, and François Périer. Périer’s contribution appears to be from 1982 while the others are from 1967, around the time of the film’s release. Rosier talks about the possibility of an acting career and her realization she probably won’t have long in the industry, making of it what she can now. Nathalie Delon also talks about the prospects of acting, not sure whether it’s something she really wants to do, while Delon praises Melville and the film. Melville takes up more than half of the montage, talking about his work and sharing his thoughts on films (including that they are commercial and need an audience). When asked about actors he explains it would be stupid to treat actors poorly, and Delon talks highly of him in this regard during his segment, but rather amusingly Périer, in his final short excerpt, describes Melville as an incredibly difficult director who was hard on his actors. I don’t know why but I do genuinely love contradictions in supplements because they feel more honest.

New to this edition, though carried over from the French Pathe release, is the 23-minute documentary Melville-Delon: D’honneur et de nuit, featuring interviews with Melville’s nephews Laurent Grousset and Rémy Grumbach, Nogueira again, and filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff. Intercut with various Melville quotes it looks at the working relationship between Delon and Melville, though with a special focus on Le samouraï, though the nephews do share more personal stories. It’s fine, though not wholly engaging, and I preferred the other supplements on the release to this. But for those curious about what the Pathe Blu-ray looks like and why its reputation is so poor you get clips from that restoration here, and as I mentioned above it’s absolutely terrible.

The disc closes with the same lengthy trailer found on the DVD, and Criterion carries over the booklet that was included with the DVD. Again it contains a wonderful essay on the film by David Thomson (not to be confused with David Thompson), a reprint of an appreciation for Melville written by director John Woo, and then excerpts from Nogueira’s Melville on Melville with the director focusing on Le samouraï. It’s a great booklet and adds a lot, so I’m thankful Criterion has ported it all over. As far as I can see the written content appears to be the same, though to adjust for the smaller dimensions for Blu-ray it’s laid out a little differently.

In all the supplements are a bit slim, which is rather surprising considering the stature of the film (I would have expected a commentary), but the content is mostly good. At the very least Criterion has carried everything over from their previous DVD.

6/10

CLOSING

It could be better but considering the other options out there it appears Criterion offers the best version of the film on Blu-ray. Though they used an older master, and it shows in some of the film’s lower lit scenes, it still looks pretty good overall, while the supplements offer a decent overview of the film and Melville himself.


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