Saturday, October 16, 2010


Cast: Vincent Cassel, Gérard Depardieu, Elena Anaya, Florence Thomassin
Director: Jean-François Richet
Runtime: 113 min.
Language: French
Country: France
Verdict: Apart from the interesting usage of split/multi screens, this is standard issue.
Genre: Drama, Crime

        I’m not sure what film the other critics are talking about, but the first part of Mr. Richet’s attempt at documenting the life of Jacques Mesrine is a largely uninteresting affair. Mr. Cassel, an otherwise wonderful actor (Irreversible, Eastern Promises), plays here another variation of the cocky macho guy Hollywood has thrust upon him. Difference is, the cocky guy is a character and not simply a placard but cocky nonetheless. One could walk into one of his films feeling pretty darn certain what to expect from his character. Despite that being a good performance, it is not good news. So yeah, there’s that.
        The film charts Mesrine’s life like clockwork ticking from robbery to killings to macho stuff to girls. I mean, you feel like you seen it all. So I guess there’s little to talk about on that count. What interests me immensely is the opening act, so much so that I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it vis-à-vis the rest of the film, and this little exercise was the only thing that kept me from not aborting the movie. It is choreographed via split-screens, and unlike the traditional thoroughly inept usage of the style in most movies where multiple actions are almost vomited onto us, Mr. Richet has the same action rendered from multiple angles. And not just multiple angles, but from varying distances. That alone would have earned an hour’s worth of conversation, but Mr. Richet does one better by splitting the screen through time. As in, each split shows the same events but differentiated through time. Whether Mesrine’s employment of this technique is some kind of achievement is something that is immaterial, but what cannot be denied is that it represents one of the rare occasions where this technique actually manages to lend a thematic contribution, rather than its standard usage as an empty style. You know what I am talking about.
        Consider this dear reader. Jacques Mesrine and his accomplice in his indulges walk out towards their car. It is shot from multiple angles, and shown thus, and the splits are out of sync as far as time is concerned. The camera, we all know, is as good as an eye. It is a perspective. It cannot but help lend an emotion to a scene. What emotion that is upto the intention of the filmmaker. But an eye always will have an emotion. An eye always is subjective. What we have is an image, already formed, and we are watching it with our state of mind. And yes, it is not just the eye that makes the emotion but it is us to. We, as a viewer, and the camera, as an eye, together form the emotion of a scene. The percentage of contribution varies. For example in a Hitchcock film, the contribution of the camera is almost one hundred percent, and the eye is merely receiving its part. In Politist, Adjectiv (now that I am back with my darling, I shall be reviewing the masterpiece very shortly) the camera and the eye are almost 50-50. I hope you get the drift.
        Let me make it clear. The traditional usage of the multi screen where multiple events are shown simultaneously is utterly ridiculous, with no apparent gains. The human eye and brain is simply not upto the task, and anyway it becomes a free-for-all where you select one screen and stick to it. Sort of like walking into a multiplex and picking one film. But what happens when the multiplex is showing the same film and the same events, but from different perspectives. That is what happens in Mesrine. We’re watching the same event, the same action, but multiple perspectives. And when we have multiple perspectives at our disposal, what we essentially have is objectivity. Dear reader, this is not a generalized theory or rule that I am dishing out, but this is what is induced in us viewers by cinema. When there are multiple angles and multiple split screens of the same event, we as viewers are not feeling the image because our brain hasn’t processed the complete wholesome image yet. At the end of the deal, we do form a complete image within us, which becomes the memory of the said event. As a result during such a split screen what we are busy doing is processing the information (nothing but the facts gentlemen), and the emotion caused by the camera’s perspective is absolutely nullified.
        And that is what kept me bothering for the length of the entire film. Mesrine does declare upfront that these films based on true stories are sure as hell taking cinematic liberties, because they simply cannot be aware of every single moment of their protagonist’s life. Fair enough. I half-expected (a bit unfair perhaps) the film to take the multi-screen approach for the events and days it was sure of, and for the rest provide the standard single framing. Believe me reader, it would’ve provided for a fascinating struggle, for cinema’s basic and inherent tendency is to romanticize life. A single edit causes us to give more importance to one event over the other, and thus total unbiased documentation is seemingly beyond the reach of movies. Even a documentary is not exactly a documentation. It is not the basic facts. And within the opening act I felt as if I was watching something that is close to documentation. Mesrine does have another interesting usage of the multi-screen towards the end, and that is what keeps me interested as I walk into the second part of Jacques Mesrine’s life story as told by the movies.
        As yes, I forgot. Behind those sunglasses, Mr. Depardieu is brilliant.


Just Another Film Buff said...

Jackie Brown!

man in the iron mask said...

And that is why I am downloading it now. Got to watch it...