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Mesrine: Public Enemy #1


Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

A big commotion ensues when France’s most wanted criminal, Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) is shot to death in his BMW while on his way to leave the country with his girlfriend (Ludivine Sagnier). Jumping back to 1973, Mesrine is apprehended for robbing two banks that happen to be right across from one another. For the sake of time, the plan is to rob only one. However, Mesrine just cannot overlook such a golden opportunity to hit the system, one he considers to be corrupt and evil, where it hurt.

“Mesrine: Public Enemy #1,” written by Abdel Raouf Dafri, turns its focus on robbing banks, chases, and narrow escapes which, in theory, should have provided a sense of excitement. While the material manages to deliver some thrills via reaching a synergy of imagery and score, these jolts of intense emotions are not enough for the film to stand on its own. It is unfortunate because the struggle in making Mesrine a complex figure is almost palpable.

On one hand, there are some interesting scenes which argue that despite Mesrine’s actions, he is very human and capable of feeling. A most moving scene is arguably the one shared between the imprisoned criminal and the daughter he never had the chance to raise and get to know. The way Mesrine looks her child, now on the verge of adulthood, after years of not laying eyes on her commands a power that goes far beyond a rain of bullets piercing through metals and body parts. When he looks at her, his gaze is so sensitive yet piercing, I felt as if he sees her very soul, their differences to be celebrated, and that he is almost proud she is not like him.

On the other hand, Mesrine’s personal politics is executed vaguely at its best and confusingly at its worst. Although we are given a chance to observe and listen to his fiery reactions when he is, for example, misrepresented on the newspapers or, worse, not mentioned at all, not once does the writing really delve into the psychology in terms of why he wishes to subvert the system so badly.

Although Cassel’s acting is sublime, the subtleties in the writing are not as consistently present so the performer is dragged down along with it. Instead, the priority seems to be on the colorful characters that work with Mesrine. For instance, there is François Besse (Mathieu Amalric), an inmate that Mesrine befriends to help him escape and eventual partner in stealing from banks. The duo are able to work together but since the scenes they share are choppy at times, there is very little dramatic build-up which then causes their schism to feel more like a device to advance the plot rather than a friendship or partnership that changes something in Mesrine as a person and a symbol of society’s id run amok.

Furthermore, I was at a loss on why Broussard (Olivier Gourmet), the police commissioner in charge of capturing Mesrine, is even introduced since the filmmakers decided to give him so little screen time. In the end, Broussard is shown running toward Mesrine as he is about to be shot to death. He comes across like a joke, similar to those cops in horror movies where they arrive a minute too late.

“L’ennemi public n°1,” directed by Jean-François Richet, could have been more effective and challenging if it had dug more deeply into Mesrine as a person. It is usually more difficult to make an audience to identify with a “bad person” than to get wrapped up in the sensationalized “bad things” he did. The film often rests on the latter just when things are about to get interesting.

Home


Home (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

A family, led by Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) and Michel (Olivier Gourmet), has lived in a house alongside an abandoned highway for more than a decade. Throughout the years, they have learned to adapt, from being a good distance away from the nearest town to not having neighbors living within the area. With their three kids, Judith (Adélaïde Leroux), Marion (Madeleine Budd), and Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein), they have no choice but to become a very close family. But when road workers start to appear with their trucks, Marthe and Michel suspect that their lifestyle is about to undergo a significant change.

“Home,” directed by Ursula Meier, almost works as a strange chamber drama even though a lot of the scenes are shot outdoors. Even though the kids and the parents are able to run on fields during pretend play and soak up fresh air, their existence feels claustrophobic because it is rare that we get a chance to see them interact with the outside world. The closest we ever get to seeing something foreign are the cars that pass by once the freeway is open to the public. Even then the cars whizz by like bullets and they provide little personal interaction with the family.

Once the road becomes functional, it takes a negative toll on the psychology of the family. The matriarch is not equipped to handle the noise. She cannot sleep at night so she begins to exhibit bizarre behavior. In one of the scenes, she tries to suffocate her husband with a pillow because the noises from the highway are too much for her to bear.

Marion suggests that maybe her mother should get a job so she can step outside of the house once in a while. Marthe’s initial response, when one takes the time to look into her eyes after hearing her daughter speak, is fear. Then she hides, conveniently, in what is expected of a mother. A mere suggestion gives her an excuse to overcompensate when it comes to caring for the household–cleaning, cooking, and washing clothes–and providing emotional support when father is at work.

Meanwhile, Judith becomes rebellious, apathetic to people’s stares as she sunbathes on the lawn every day–for several hours at a time–while the radio blasts rock music. Marion becomes obsessive when it comes to the way the vehicles end up polluting their home-grown food. She is convinced that the red spots that have suddenly appeared on their bodies are signs of lead poisoning. Energetic Julien has to deal with containment. Because of the high speed cars, he is no longer allowed to ride his bike down the road. It is akin to watching a caged animal slowly wither because it was so accustomed to being free.

The father, on the other hand, is more disturbed with how his family is responding to the situation rather than the opening of the road itself. In that way, he represents us. He recognizes that the shift in equilibrium does not elicit a normal response.

As the tension turns unbearable in and around the house, the film’s tone touches upon some horror elements due to the family’s aberrant behaviors–and it works. “Home” is a different and even a challenging experience at times because it is not about presenting a conventional plot or following a typical story arc. It is about behavioral changes dependent on stimuli, an experiment taking place under a glass dome.

The Son


The Son (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Le fils” or “The Son,” written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, tells the story of a sixteen-year-old (Morgan Marinne) who is taken under the wing of a grieving carpenter named Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) who lost his son five years ago. As the film goes on, Olivier becomes more and more interested in the teenager and not until we meet Olivier’s wife (Isabella Soupart) do we find out exactly why he is so fixated on his new apprentice. This is probably one of the most bare-boned films I’ve ever seen but it has such a powerful emotional wallop. I can understand why a lot of people are immediately turned off by this movie because not a lot of things happen on the surface. The dialogue was minimal and the camera had a penchant for close-ups to really absorb the nuances in the facial expressions of the actors. I argue that the film is very eventful when it comes to the internal rage and depression that each character is going through. Yet they also want to not be angry anymore and to move on with life. Just looking in their eyes made me feel so sad because I felt as though they had a story that they were ashamed of and would do anything to keep hidden. Once that connection is made between the two leads and the audience, each movement was purposeful and had some kind of meaning. I was really curious about whether Olivier wanted to hurt the teenager in some way or if he has something else in mind. The silences that they shared were so painful and awkward to watch at times yet I thought it was very realistic. When I think about it, there are some days when I say less than ten words to another human being because either I’m so into my own thoughts that I don’t even notice or I actively choose not to speak to avoid some kind of collision. The directors really knew how they wanted their story to unfold and it’s a shame because the majority of less introspective viewers would most likely miss the point. There’s a lot to be said about “Le fils” but this is the kind of film worth discussing between two people who have seen it than between a reviewer and someone contemplating of seeing it. The organic manner in which the picture revealed itself to me touched me in a way that it was almost cathartic. If you’re feeling like watching something that doesn’t conform to Hollywood typicality, this is definitely a great choice. My advice is to be patient during the first twenty to thirty minutes. It will hook you in when you least expect it.