classic film

Five-star cinema: Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘Le Samourai’

In our weekly pick of classic movies from around the world, we bring you the French director’s classic study of a lonesome hitman.

Actors playing lonesome and laconic hitmen who glide from one assignment to the next can learn a thing or two about rectitude and repose from Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai. Made in 1967 and starring the peerless Alain Delon, this study of an ascetic assassin who has a caged bird and his perfectionism for company is the final word in cerebral cool. Melville’s homage to American noir and the Japanese samurai genre is pulp elevated to art, and has influenced several films, ranging from Taxi Driver (1976) to The Killer (1989).

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The trailer of ‘Le Samourai’.

The opening shot of Delon’s Jef Costello lying in bed sending up blue plumes of smoke quickly establishes his inner world: a drab apartment in need of a coat of paint, functional furniture, and a metaphorical bird in a cage. The opening credits that roll over Jef’s supine form conclude with a quote from the Bushido code, which extols the way of the lone samurai warrior and compares him to a tiger in the jungle. Delon’s feline grace over the course of the next 105 minutes certainly matches the description.

Jef is a man of neat and precise movements, whether he is wearing his hat at just the right angle or placing his duplicate keys on the seat of the vehicle he is going to steal, or calmly comforting his girlfriend. He is a creature of habit who is wedded to his headgear, raincoat and wristwatch – time and timing are everything in this movie. Melville’s film is similarly fastidious, letting the action methodically unfold in defiance of the fast-cutting conventions of the crime thriller. The film’s meditative pace and minimal use of dialogue allow us to take in Jef’s solitude, the glassy interiors of the night club where he carries out his assignment, and the chic apartments where allies and adversaries lounge about. Even the police station, where Francois Perier’s investigator tries to nail Jeff for the crime, is perfectly symmetrical. The extended line-up and subsequent interrogation have all the ritualistic flavor of a Japanese tea ceremony.

Perier’s police officer is the busiest creature in a movie of unhurried movements. Melville’s crime movies, including Bob the Gambler (1956) and La Circle Rogue (1970), are minor essays in process and method, but he is also a master at creating a mood. An attempt to bug Jef’s apartment is suffused with suspense, and once again, it’s the caged bird, Jef’s greatest ally in a world out to get him, that proves to be his saviour.

Few films have used Delon’s face to greater effect. He was already a movie star by the time of Le Samourai, with the success of Plain Soleil (1960), Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and The Leopard (1963) behind him. Henri Decaë’s camera rests ever so often on Delon’s perfectly aligned features, capturing his icy demeanour as well as his silent despair when the cards begin to stack up against him. Witnesses to the murder at the night club fail to pick out Jef during the police line-up. Some of them are on the side of his criminal bosses, but the others are probably just too smitten to react in a logical fashion.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.