Melville, Le Samourai, and the Studios Jenner

By January 5, 2011 December 19th, 2019 Cinephilia, Great Directors, I Heart Films

Last night I watched for the first time Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967) a poetic film noir starring a young Alain Delon. I was especially struck by the suspenseful, lyrical first ten minutes of the film – which were completely devoid of dialogue.

Later on in the film, I was slightly turned off by the wooden acting of the protagonist – by far my favorite character was the chief inspector – and by one of the key turns of the film that involved the French police. Having lived in Paris for five years, I found their alacrity and prowess completely unrealistic. But then this morning I discovered this quote by Melville himself, and came to reconsider things:

I’m not interested in realism. All my films hinge on the fantastic. I’m not a documentarian; a film is first and foremost a dream, and it’s absurd to copy life in an attempt to produce an exact re-creation of it. Transposition is more or less a reflex with me: I move from realism to fantasy without the spectator ever noticing.

When the Samourai’s final credits rolled, I read that the film had been shot at the “Studios Jenner.” Intrigued, I tried to find out more about them. After all, Rue Jenner is in my neighborhood: I have walked on that street dozens of times. Apparently the studios caught fire during the filming of Le Samourai: Melville suspected arson. They were completely abandoned and eventually destroyed after Melville’s death.

On the INA (Institut national de l’audiovisuel) website, I found this magnificent 15 minute video reportage (shot in 1970), showing Melville at the Studios Jenner.

The next film I’ll probably watch: Melville’s Le Doulos (1962)…