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François Périer

Out of the Past: Le Samourai

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

Jeff Costello, a professional to his white-gloved fingertips, makes his trenchcoated way through a Parisian nightclub and downstairs to the office of the club’s proprietor, where—fulfilling with his usual cold efficiency the terms of a contract—he shoots the man dead. But just as Costello comes out of the office, another consummate professional, the club’s stylish black pianist Valérie, emerges from another door and sees him. She takes a good, long, quizzical look at his face. Most of the narrative twists that follow in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï (seen seven years after release in a Vancouver skid road theater, dubbed and retitled The Godson!), depend upon this short scene and its surprising sequel, when Valérie deliberately fails to identify Costello in a police lineup. Melville makes the puzzle of Valérie’s motivation as teasing to us as it soon becomes to Costello himself. Admirers of this director, however, will not be surprised to learn that the extraordinary impact of the film is minimally dependent upon mere plot.

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DVD: ‘La Visita’

La Visita/The Visitor (Raro Video)

Pina (Sandra Milo) is a lonely beauty in a small Italian town in the north, a successful and confident professional with her own business and a lovely home she shares with a pet dog, parrot, and turtle. Adolfo (François Périer) is a bookseller in Rome who answers her personal ad. As he takes the train north, their correspondence is read over the soundtrack: the voices of two single thirtysomethings making tentative steps to making a connection.

It’s a tender, delicate beginning of a tentative romance that slowly loses its sentimentality as we learn more about the two would-be lovers, but for all the edged humor and eccentric characters of Pina’s backwater village, The Visitor is neither satire nor romantic comedy. Director and co-writer Antonio Pietrangeli working from a script developed with Ettore Scola (who became a successful director in his own right) and frequent collaborator Ruggero Maccari (whose filmography includes the original Scent of a Woman), offers a much more layered and unexpected portrait in disappointment and resigned concession.

Milo’s Pina, whose caboose is, shall we say, cartoonishly overpadded to add a comic imperfection to the actress’ beauty (she practically waddles as she hustles about the streets), is a sweet, smart, accomplished woman in a provincial town who wants nothing more than to flee this prison of a home for the sophistication and opportunity of the city and the company of a husband. She bends over backwards to overlook her date’s arrogance, gluttony, vulgarity, and unmotivated cruelty toward her helpless pets. Périer’s Adolfo puts on a show of urban sophistication that evaporates in direct proportion to the amount of wine he knocks back, and he surreptitiously measures her home and even rearranges furniture to his liking, as if already taking residence as the man of the house. Hiding behind a brush mustache and insincere grin, Périer offers up Adolfo as a neat but unattractive man who imagines himself some kind of sophisticate gracing the provincial north with his cultured presence.

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