Many things can make a great opening scene. A film can open with a shock, a fast paced action sequence, a gripping voiceover, a moment of comedy or so many other possibilities. Opening scenes can help define your experience with a film and the best opening scenes can pin you to your seat excited about what the next two hours may bring. In a new and occasional feature the writers at HeyUGuys will select some of their favourite opening sequences and talk about why they love them so much. We’d also love you to get involved so feel free to leave comments or contact us in all the usual ways to let us know what your favourites are. First up is one of my favourites.
One scene that always comes to the forefront of my mind when I think of great film openings is a sequence that is especially memorable for opening my eyes at a young age to some of the subtle and masterful elements of filmmaking. It is the opening to Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film Le Samourai.
I love Le Samourai so much and it is the opening sequence that pulled me right into the film the first time I saw it. Like great opening lines to novels (my personal favourite – “It began as a mistake.”) opening sequences can introduce you to a story by intriguing you with details about characters and the plot but at the same time sucking you in by leaving questions unanswered. The opening to Le Samourai does just this. Taking just a simple premise, a solitary man in his room getting up and leaving, Melville does so much, pulling you right into the film.
The film opens with a long shot of Jef (Alain Delon) lying on his bed, slowly smoking. His bedroom is sparse but in the centre is a birdcage with a single bird that provides the only sound, a high pitched tweeting. After lingering on this scene we begin to hear the wonderful score by Francois de Roubaix which complements Melville’s visuals beautifully in the first scene and throughout the film. The sound design and score are wonderfully crafted in Le Samourai and their success is incredibly important as there is no dialogue for the first ten minutes of the film.
There is then an odd moment as Melville uses a technique often referred to as a contrazoom, although it is not a straight contrazoom, which makes the situation unsettling and sets up the edgy tone of the film. A quote appears on the screen which states it is from the Book of Bushido (although playfully Melville actually wrote the ‘quote’ himself) – “There is no solitude greater than the samurai’s, unless perhaps it be that of a tiger in the jungle.”
Delon then arises from the bed in an impeccable suit and puts on his iconic trenchcoat and hat. He does this with an air of laconic cool, pausing briefly to straighten the brim of his hat. He then exits the door, calmly steals a car and you are thrown into probably the coolest French crime film ever made.
We already know so much about Delon’s character and the tone of the film from this opening but there are still so many questions left unanswered. I will not say any more as hopefully the above is enough to encourage you to check out Le Samourai, if you have not already. A great opening and wonderful film.
The beautiful poster above comes courtesy of Brandon Schaefer