07 August 2009

Revolt on the Finchley Road

Hell hath no fury like Bexquisite with her cinematic preferences scorned. Of this week's new releases, I knew I wanted to see L'Instinct de Mort (part one of the chronicles of the 1960s', John Dillinger of France, Jacques Mesrine) and Adam, even if the latter turned out to be a little soppy and cheesy. I didn't really mind which of the two I saw tonight but then I decided I would see Adam tonight and then catch the Mesrine film after work in Nowheresville next week. Also, Adam was 20 minutes shorter and seemed to start at more convenient times, so Adam it was. I couldn't really face the West End on a muggy Friday night and so Tubed up to Swiss Cottage, which is only a couple of stops from home anyway (I was also impressed to find that there is actually a Swiss cottage there--or, at least, a pub in the style of one).

The Finchley Road cinema was a lot quieter than any of the more central cinemas would have been and as the lights finally went down on the screen, about ten minutes late, there were only about 10 of us in there. As the ads rolled, I soon realised that the curtains were still drawn although at that point, I wasn't bothered and as a couple of people had walked purposefully towards the door, I assumed the problem had already been reported. Part way through the trailers, the screen was turned off and the lights came on. Then it was back to normal as the trailers continued but with the weird concertina effect of the curtains over the top. Two cinema guys were obviously trying to fix them manually but as we reached the end of the trailers and then the "Summer 2009 at the cinema" advert and then the latest offering from Orange, I realised they probably weren't going to be able to fix it.

Indeed, after the trailers ended, a timid guy came to the back of the room and said that unfortunately, due to a technical problem, they couldn't show the film. I had been brooding about the possibility of this for the past ten minutes and was not happy. "Can't you just pull down the curtains given that it's not as though they serve any purpose beyond the pseudo-dramatic way of announcing the film's about to begin?" I demanded. The cinema guy laughed but I wasn't joking and a couple of the other audience members voiced their agreement. I would have minded less if it was the screen or the sound that was broken but those curtains are so pointless.

"Don't worry, you'll get your money back," said the nervous cinema guy.

"I should hope so," I retorted testily, "given that it would be somewhat unfair to charge £9.60 to watch the trailers and the adverts." Eventually, after we made enough fuss, they agreed to give us all a free ticket as well as the refund so I grabbed the programme and found out that the Mesrine film was due to start in five minutes (40 minutes after Adam was supposed to have started) so I asked if I could go to see that and the manager who was, in the end, quite sweet when dealing with some extremely irate customers who'd trekked all the way to Swiss Cottage, said that wouldn't be a problem and I did, in the end, enjoy the film. However:

1) After a somewhat tiring week, I wanted to watch something a bit frothier and an offbeat rom-com set in NYC seemed more like my mental capacity tonight than the gritty tale of a charismatic French gangster.
2) After a somewhat migrainey morning, I was worried about my ability to read French subtitles--although I don't always use the subtitles in French films, I knew part of the movie was set in Canada and I really can't understand Canadian French.
3) If I'd wanted to go to see L'Instinct de Mort, I would have gone to the Screen on Baker Street, which is about 90 seconds' walk from my flat rather than heading for the 'burbs.
4) I did not appreciate the wasted time just sitting around waiting or having to sit through the adverts and the trailers twice.
5) I had already made up my mind to see Adam and I suffer deeply from loss aversion.

As for Mesrine, well, he was a perfectly charming baddie--of course he was because who's going to make a film about a charmless man (other than, perhaps, Damon Albarn)? L'Instict de Mort is the first of a two-part series chronicling the life of Monsieur Mesrine, this part focusing on his formative years. After some bad experiences with France's dodgy dealings in Algeria in the early '60s, Mesrine returns to live with his pleasant, middle-class parents, who try to help him get a job. Working for gangster supremo Guido (Depardieu) is better paid and more fun. Mesrine buggers off to Spain, deflowers some gorgeous local girl (later marrying her), gets into trouble, has several children, goes to jail, comes out, tries to reform but gets fired from his job and so reverts to his former life of crime, leaving his wife to watch as he goes back to his old ways. Later on, he finds his Bonnie and the two go gallivanting around Canada, wreaking all sorts of havoc, robbing banks and casinos, kidnapping rich men and eventually getting caught and sent to prison (in Mesrine's case to a particularly nasty prison that used some pretty horrific torture methods to convert its inmates--in theory--to docile lambs), from which he, of course, escapes.

And it is quite a romp through the '60s, crossing countries and continents. It's a very stylish film, with a cool opening sequence involving several frames which appear to follow the character or characters on screen from several different cameras or in the rear-view and wing mirrors on a car and with a great soundtrack. For all his misdeeds, Mesrines comes across as quite likable, often defending women in an almost chivalrous way (until his wife tries to make him choose between her and his gangster friends) and, later, launching an attack on the prison from which he escapes as a form of protest against the terrible conditions. Of course, the films are based on Mesrine's autobiography so it makes sense that he comes off quite well. Vincent Cassell does a good job with great delivery of the few, well-timed comic lines he gets, though Warren Beatty he ain't. Nor is Cecile de France exactly Faye Dunaway but her small part playing Mesrine's lover and partner-in-crime is well done.

I should really wait for the second part before making a judgement but so far, I'm enjoying the tale of Monsieur Mesrine, l'ennemi public no. 1.

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