I suppose saying “I like French cinema” is a bit vague, a bit like saying “I like red wine”. OK, so let’s narrow it down. I like French films. I especially like the ones which feature Daniel Auteuil. Now here I must be mindful of a recent post over at Tim’s place and ask Small Boo if it’s all right if we share?
On Friday I went to see Le Deuxième Souffle. It’s a remake of a 1966 film of the same name (I don’t know the earlier film or the novel on which it’s based; I don’t know much about French cinema but I know what I like). Set in the late fifties, the main business of the film concerns a gangster, Gustave “Gu” Minda (Auteuil), newly broken out of jail and intending to flee the country with his lover. The only problem is money – he needs to do one more job and then he’ll be set. Conveniently, a job presents itself, a bullion heist. The job passes off smoothly and all looks well. But he has reckoned without the new police chief, a man with a dry wit and an instinctive understanding of the criminal mind who, having tricked Gu into incriminating himself, sets about destroying his reputation with the rest of the gang. In true “honour among thieves” style, Gu must “clear” his name before he and his lover can begin their new life together.
As plots go it isn’t terribly original but the film is so beautifully played that it hardly matters. This is a piece of cinema with style. The performances of the principal characters are subtle and nuanced, the world they create convinces. This is particularly true of Auteuil (OK, you knew I was going to say that, but it’s true). His gangster is violent (the film is extremely bloody) but he is also a meticulous man, his attention to detail, in both his “professional” and personal lives, is impressive. The “lovable crook” is a worn old cliché and, as you would expect, Auteuil steers well clear. This is a man who, while despicable, exudes charm and fascinates those around him. Even his sworn enemy, Blot (Michel Blanc) has a sort of grudging respect for him. An early scene stands as a perfect metaphor for the entire film. Shortly after arriving back in Paris after his jailbreak, Gu is taken to a safe house. His lover, nightclub owner Manouche (Monica Bellucci) has sent food and wine for them to share later. As their mutual friend and colleague, Alban (Eric Cantona) sets out the meal, you realise that these are no emergency rations. A table is set with linen and china. A bottle of champagne. The attention to detail is evident. Bread and cheese are elevated to celebratory status and so it is with the rest of the film which, thanks to magnificent performances from Blanc, Bellucci and especially Auteuil, is so much more than the sum of it’s parts.
I really enjoyed it.
P.S. This may just be the most pretentious thing I’ve ever written.