Tag: cecile de france

Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

In 1979, Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) and a woman he was with were ambushed and killed by the French police. Jumping to the 1950s in the middle of the Franco-Algerian War, we observe Mesrine partake in a violent interrogation in which he is eventually ordered to shoot a woman in the head. Once discharged, he returns to his hometown to live with his parents. Although his father has secured him a respectable job, Mesrine instead chooses to work for the local mob, led by a man named Guido (Gérard Depardieu).

Based on the book by none other than the subject of the film, although “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” is occasionally elevated by nail-biting scenes, it is only partially successful in creating a portrait of a deeply complicated man. This shortcoming can partly be attributed to the mishandling of time jumps. A handful of them pass after a blink of an eye—without having a chance to build up, punch through, and show why that specific time in Mesrine’s life is a high point or a low point. I wrinkled my brows and wondered what the picture is attempting to communicate or achieve.

Conversely, certain time periods that seem to go on forever, aimless, its ideas are recycled continuously to the point of tedium. For example, there is a hold-up, followed by a quick celebration, then the attention turns to the negative aspect of the occupation. After, Mesrine feels the itch to do another job and steal more money. Rinse and repeat. When the pacing slows down, we cannot help but suspect that script has run out of ideas.

At times, the picture focuses on what makes Mesrine vulnerable through the women in his life. There is Sarah (Florence Thomassin), a prostitute with whom he considers his lover; Sofia (Elena Anaya), a gorgeous Spanish woman who gave birth to his three children; and Jeanne (Cécile De France), a woman not unlike himself, deeply connected to crime. Whenever the main character is next to the opposite sex, it is almost like watching an invisible wall melt. Whether the interactions take a form of flirtations in a bar, dancing to some spicy music, or just being at home, it feels refreshing to see because we feel his struggle between leading a life that is expected of him versus a life that quenches the thrill of being in a position of power.

His search for domination is nicely tethered to the way he sees his father (Michel Duchaussoy): a good man but is often a doormat. Unfortunately, for every scene that looks more into Mesrine’s personal life, there are four or five scenes of him being showcased as a tough guy with a gun accompanied by powerful glares.

Mesrine might not have been a lot of things, like a good father or a good husband, most might even consider him a bad person, but, as the film suggests, he is a man of his word. Somehow, even though it made me somewhat uncomfortable, I found myself respecting that part of him. I believe that admiration is one of the reasons why I constantly wanted to see him do good even though he is already neck-deep in criminal records.

Written by Abdel Raouf Dafri and directed by Jean-François Richet, “L’instinct de mort,” sometimes romanticized but often gritty, requires smoother transitions of its subject’s life events. At its worst, instead of the dramatic tension pouring over one another from one year to the next until the inevitable flood, tension is drained after each year and the material begins from scratch.

High Tension

High Tension (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★

Marie (Cécile De France) and Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) need to study for exams so the two friends drive to the countryside to get away from distractions. Alex’ family (Andrei Finti, Oana Pellea, Marco Claudiu Pascu) is kind enough to let them stay. But on the night of their arrival, a man (Philippe Nahon) pulls over his truck to the farmhouse and rings the bell. When Alex’ father answers the door, he is struck my the stranger for no apparent reason. Then the man proceeds to go upstairs to kill the rest of the family.

Written by Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur, “Haute tension” lives up to its title because it does not simply settle with delivering bucket loads of blood. It milks every gruesome murder scene by experimenting with perspective, featuring well-lit close-ups, and allowing the main character, Marie, to do things that a regular person might do given that he or she is placed in a similar situation.

Marie is smart so it is easy to root for her. Already it is a step above typical slasher films where a would-be survivor shrieks like cattle while running away from a predator. As the truck driver approaches the third floor where the guest room is located, Marie is understandably panic-stricken yet she makes sensible decisions. For instance, before finding a hiding spot, she returns all her belongings to her bag, hides it, makes sure the bed is neat, and the sink is dry. So when the killer enters the room to investigate, there is less of a chance of him searching every hiding place.

I feel that the best horror movies, especially of the slasher sub-genre, are the ones that feature characters who do exactly what I would do if I were the one in trouble. Marie is not the kind of person who screams for help across the field when she knows that she is within eyesight of danger. She is the kind who tiptoes from one location to another which made my heart palpitate that much harder. With every door she opens, I held my breath; with every doorway she crosses, I released a sigh of relief. Then it repeats if she wishes to get to the next room.

De France is very good because the little ticks she injects into her character summon the necessary fear and vulnerability for us to want to be with her every step of the way. A handful of scenes are truly horrific because of the grizzly violence but one stood out to me: the bathroom scene in the gas station. The scene made me feel uncomfortable, in a good way, because most of the time, when a character begins to think that the threat is gone, it is a titanic hint that the end is near for that person. Here, there is a freshness and enthusiasm with the way the writers play with our expectations.

Marie has an attraction toward Alex. The problem is, Alex is attracted to men. Their friendship requires more detail or depth if I were to believe in the tension between them. Still, since Alex is straight and Marie is gay, I could see why Marie, in a way, wants to be a hero by saving Alex, who is eventually kidnapped by the trucker, so that she will be impressed, or thankful, or forever in debt for saving her life. The implication is, when it comes to unrequited feelings, any emotion toward the person being attracted is better than no feeling at all.

“High Tension,” directed by Alexandre Aja, is able to maintain its subject matter’s darkness while paying homage to influential slasher movies. Most pictures of its type are unable to accomplish either. Finally, there is a twist toward the end that is more unnecessary than brilliant. (I thought it was the latter after first viewing.) It works as an immediate experience but it does not hold up strongly upon critical thinking.

The Kid with a Bike

The Kid with a Bike (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Cyril (Thomas Doret), currently staying in a children’s home, runs away from school to go to his dad’s place to get his bike. Although the counselors have told him that his father, Guy (Jérémie Renier) no longer lives there, he is convinced that this is a lie. He sees for himself that the flat is empty and along with it the bike he values greatly. Some time passed and Cyril is most surprised when Samantha (Cécile De France), one of the women who has seen him cause pandemonium at his father’s apartment complex, brings him the bike he has been searching for. As the kind woman drives away, Cyril stops her and asks if he can spend every weekend with her. She thinks it is a good idea but tells him she must speak with the one in charge first. Cyril is not convinced, but maybe he ought to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Sometimes the simplest films hold the most meaning. Such is the case in “The Kid with a Bike,” written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, completely enveloping in putting us into the mindset of a child who discovers that he is not wanted by his own father and uncompromising in showing the very real dangers of a young person not having anyone to look up to, a role model who is there when needed and, perhaps more importantly, when not.

The scenes that make up the picture are short and to the point. The early sequences involve Cyril visiting all sorts of places he can think of that his father used to frequent like a store or a gas station. Watching him run around should tip us to the fact that the boy in red is smart and determined. When he is faced with a dead end, he does not allow the situation to get to him or slow him down. There is an optimism to our protagonist’s approach that is very painful to experience at times because even though our he does not let the sadness seep in, most of us already have a full understanding of what is going on. For him, it is simple: a dead end is an opportunity to turn around and find another avenue. In essence, the resilience we observe is the reason why we root for this child to find his way.

The film hinges on Doret’s performance. I admired how his anger is communicated in obvious and subtle ways. When he gets into a physical altercation, notably with an older boy who attempts to steal his beloved bike, his movement is brisk and full of purpose. Although the aim is not to maim, it looks like watching a person who has nothing to lose. The other kid, though larger in stature, appears limp in comparison. On the other hand, Cyril’s anger is communicated in the way he interacts with objects like a car, a sink, or a door. Notice the way he cuts bread with a knife. It is messy, inefficient, and out of control.

There is no explicit information provided to us about Samantha other than she is a hairdresser, but we like her. It is not because she is a saint-like figure. No, we like her because she is the only one who is willing to go out of her way to give Cyril a chance. (The counselors in the children’s home do not count because it is their job to look out for him.) The way Samantha looks at him suggests that maybe she comes from a similar background. We do not know for sure. What is certain is that she cares about the kid like he is her own, that by showing him that there is good in the world, he can choose to do good and not be like his absent father or the drug dealer (Egon Di Mateo) who recruits kids around the neighborhood to become budding criminals. In that way, the picture is suspenseful because we are curious about how the boy in red will turn out.

“Le gamin au vélo” touched me deeply for two reasons. First, it is a hopeful but an unsentimental case study of youth that is mostly either largely ignored or falsely represented. Second, the film is a true definition of art because it inspires us to think about what is being said, whether it be via images or dialogues, as well as what we think of our reactions to what we are experiencing. So many movies get away with being so loud and empty. This one dares to be quiet and gently reminds us that we have the power to change lives.


Hereafter (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Clint Eastwood, “Hereafter” followed three strangers from different areas of the world and how they’ve been touched by the afterlife in some way. Marie (Cécile De France), a successful French television reporter, survived a tsunami while on vacation with a co-worker who happened to be married man (Thierry Neuvic). Since she got back, Marie became obsessed over meeting with scientists who studied life after death for some explanation about what she saw when she lost consciousness. San Franciscan George (Matt Damon) had the ability to communicate with the dead. He used to do it for money. He wanted to stop altogether and lead a normal life but his brother (Jay Mohr) kept sending him clients. When George met a girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) in his cooking class, it seemed as though the life he wanted was within reach. Lastly, in London, Marcus and Jason (Frankie McLaren and George McLaren), were inseparable twins. But when Jason passed away and his mother checked into a rehabilitation center to attempt to recover from heroin addiction, Marcus was placed in foster care. The film was promising because of the way it set up the characters’ unique circumstances. The tsunami scene was heart-pounding, the reluctant psychic’s situation had a whiff of comedy to it, and the twins’ relationship was genuinely moving. However, as it went on, I couldn’t help but feel like it was afraid to tackle the difficult questions. It was plagued with scenes that led nowhere, especially the middle portion, and it became repetitive. I wanted several of my questions answered but the picture never got around to it. In regards to Marie, was she able to step outside of herself and notice a change from being a fact-driven woman to a woman so willing to embrace what’s outside the realm of possibility? She seemed to be a very smart person and for her completely believe everything she saw right away didn’t seem like the material showed loyalty to her character. As for George, he claimed he wanted to stop using his gift but was there a part of him that enjoyed giving other people closure? In some circumstances, if he didn’t hear anything from the spirit or if the connection wasn’t strong enough, was he forced to lie in order to give someone a chance to move on? His craving for a so-called normal life felt superficial. What I found most moving was Marcus’ harrowing quest in dealing with his older brother’s untimely death and the abandonment he felt when his mother had to leave. The character was the “quiet twin” and it worked especially the heartbreaking scenes when Marcus met with people who knowingly and falsely claimed to have a connection with spirits. He didn’t need to speak or scream or yell in order for us to understand what he might be going through. His actions (or inaction) were enough to reflect his sadness and possible state of depression. “Hereafter” need not offer me any definite answers because I have my own view of the afterlife. But what it needed was to fearlessly confront the characters’ own beliefs about the unknown, challenge them, and show us how they’ve changed, or if there even was a change.