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.
Impassive hitman Jef Costello lives in a single-room Paris apartment whose spartan furnishings include a small bird in a cage. Costello’s methodical modus operandi involves creating airtight alibis, including ones provided by his lover, Jane. More than merely a wonderfully effective visual metaphor, Costello’s bird functions almost like a loyal accomplice. In two different scenes, Costello correctly interprets his bird’s frantic behavior as a deliberate warning signal, which ultimately saves his life. And when Costello heads out to fulfill what will be his final contract, he gives the bird a knowing glance. Not exactly tearful, but we’re meant to read that exchange as a despondent farewell. Not because Costello is an animal lover—although he certainly cares for his bird, making sure to feed him even when suffering from his own serious injuries—but because although their fate may be shared, it’s still lonely.
This month of May our Modern Classics take flight. Every Monday at 22:00 and every Saturday at 16:30 we screen a film about birds. You can find the complete program here.