Presented by Kathleen Menzies
French filmmakers have long challenged authority, confronted tough social issues, and presented bold characters who often find themselves on the “wrong side” of the law. In recent decades, the characteristics of Nouvelle Vague crime films have given way to sleeker more narrative-centred accounts of the criminal underworld and its deviant psychologies. These films refer at once to roman noir, film noir, films policier, and to the work of Scorsese, Coppola and Michael Mann as well as to Dassin, Malle, and Melville. The long dialogue between French cinema and its Hollywood counterparts comes full circle; but it also evolves. Hugely violent, often thrilling, these movies are nevertheless complex. Le Serpent blurs the lines between good guys and bad in a game of pursuit that examines the motivations of a killer. Mesrine, divided into two parts, presents the story of infamous real-life 70s gangster and conflicted “Robin Hood” Jacques Mesrine. Un prophète gives a “Scarface” type account of a French-Algerian “outsider” who, within the brutal confines of prison, quickly climbs his way to the top of its criminal fraternity.
(dir. Jacques Audiard, 2009)
Malik is an illiterate French-Algerian who finds himself sentenced to three years for the assault of a police officer (although he denies the offense). Threatened, brutalised, and bullied into carrying out the dirty work of the prison’s Corsican “mafia” elite, we watch him develop from a terrified, insecure “servant” to a confident enforcer capable of arranging his own complex and violent illegalities both within and beyond the dark, scratched walls of his cell. Stylishly filmed but socially real, Audiard analyses issues of racial identity, conflicted loyalties, and the transformative (but problematic) possibilities of tribal affiliations and prison education in all its forms.
June 11th and June 18th
Venue: Both in John Dalton C0.14
MESRINE: L’INSTINCT DE MORT AND MESRINE: L’ENNEMI PUBLIC № 1
(dir. Jean-François Richet, 2008)
Starring the brilliant Vincent Cassel, Mesrine reinvents what the French call the polar genre – which loosely translates as “detective thriller”. Telling in two separate parts the story of gangster, bank-robber and self-styled “Robin Hood” Jacques Mesrine, the first is based on his autobiography while the second chronicles his numerous prison escapes, cunning disguises, and battles with the police. Voted “most popular man” in France in 1978, Mesrine is a divisive figure. We, like his compatriots, struggle to decide if he is self-righteous and self-serving, or a politically motivated anti-establishment hero. With an excellent cast that includes Gérard Depardieu, Cécile De France, and Mathieu Amalric, Mesrine foregrounds these questions in near epic scenes of crime, defiance, and the glamour of notoriety.
(dir. Eric Barbier, 2006)
What motivates somebody to hold a grudge? To seek the sort of revenge that involves multiple bodies going cold? Le Serpent is the sinister story of predator Plender, who stalks and infiltrates the life of a former schoolmate – by whom he himself was previously tormented. Written by Ted Lewis (author of Get Carter), some themes – sex, corruption, moral ambiguity – are the same, but the tones and techniques are different. Le Serpent is more expensively furnished and has a faster modern pace. There are multiples traces of Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, and American neo-noir here too. Ultimately, subtle distinctions and complexities take a back-seat to the excitement of watching snake coil himself around mouse; and mouse fight back.