01 September 2009


I'm glad that Jean-François Richet decided that Mesrine should be split into two separate parts--two separate films, in fact--because much as I enjoyed both parts, the whole experience would have been less pleasurable had I had to watch all four hours at once. My inability to sit still, without frenetically moving my hands or my feet for more than a few minutes at a time, means that four-hour films are highly unsuitable for me, particularly in public. Of late, I find I get so uncomfortable even during a standard two-hour film that I have taken to carrying a small cushion with me when I go to the cinema; this has the added bonus of giving me a few extra inches of height, which can make all the difference when an Tall Irritating Person decides to sit right in front of my perfectly chosen seat.

There weren't any TIPs at the screening of Mesrine: L'ennemi public no. 1 on Saturday; in fact, despite the fact that the cinema was offering two for one tickets to the film, it wasn't very busy. For some reason, a group of four Noisy Irritating People sat down next to me--yes, I could have moved but a) the film had just started and I don't like to move when I've got settled and b) I'd already chosen the best seat in the auditorium. Nor did I know that the poncey would-be intello sitting next to me with his floppy hair and Savile Row shirt would feel the need to check his iPhone every five minutes or so (every few times, taking a minute or so to send a text or an email), which, of course, flooded the room with enough light to signal in a boat on the Thames, several miles away.

Nonetheless, this could not detract from how much I liked the film. Part I focuses on Jacques Mesrine's formative years. It's quite fun and light-hearted and Mesrine himself is charming and smooth and principled. Part II is a whole lot darker. Mesrine becomes obsessed with three things (other than robbing banks, breaking people out of prison and generally being a charismatic bad-ass): 1) his media coverage (hilariously, while in prison, he complains that his arrest was bumped off the front page by some schmuck called Pinochet who'd been involved in some sort of coup d'état...), 2) his own death and 3) people pronouncing his name correctly. I would have pleased him in that respect because from the start, I've always pronounced it may-reen, although I was somewhat confused to hear various reviewers and other supposedly literatue and/or cultured individuals pronouncing it mez-reen (it was no surprise that the staff at the Odeon on Finchley Road said mez-reen). Throughout Part Deux, though, Mesrine is so enraged at the way no one ever gets his name right that you get the impression, one day that non-silent [z] will result in him massacring several hundred civilians. The point, of course, is that it's all about his image--his legacy.

Still, despite these three dark clouds over his life, Mesrine finds time to be charming and Vincent Cassel expertly balances the tightrope between smoothie and psycho with great finesse. At one point, he is being interviewed and photographed by some hack and is happily posing for photos and speaking in soundbites. Then, the hack asks what he plans to do next and Mesrine goes a little crazy, grabbing the gun and threatening the hack, detailing the cruel wake of destruction he never plans to leave but which he knows will get him the attention. The next second, he is flicking his hair back and asking the hack to take some more photos of him posing with his gun. C'est normal--for Jacques Mesrine in any case.

In Part I, his arm candy was played by Cécile de France, who made an excellent Bonnie. In Part II, Ludivine Sagnier takes her term on the arm of public enemy number one. Bonnie Parker she is not; in fact, her character is a little boring--spoiled, selfish and scared (although you can't really blame her for the last one). She wants them to get out of Paris and go and live off Mesrine's earnings somewhere nice and remote for ever more--before it's too late--but she knows this isn't going to happen.

The last sequence is very suspenseful, not least because it's been going on since the opening scene of Part I. It is, of course, the part where Mesrine is captured for the final time. In the opening of Part I, you see Mesrine and Ludivine Sagnier in disguise in a car, although the camera mirrors their paranoia and desire not to get caught by frequently cutting away to the view from the rear-view and wing mirrors. It's only right at the end of Part II that this scene finally comes to a head and we find out what is going on and how exactly they got there.

All in all, a great pair of films. Nor were there any complaints from yours truly that Mathieu Amalric made an appearance in Part II. Cassel, though, was particularly commendable, not least from the way he morphed from the young, handsome whippersnapper to the swaggering, swarthy, bloated, self-obsessed criminal of the later tears. I think he can be confident that he out-Depped Johnny Depp--certainly no mean feat.

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