Sex, Leins & Videotape #22. Paignton film critic Tom Leins broadens his horizons with an exotic selection of World Cinema DVD reviews!
In a career crammed with highlights, Vincent Cassel weighs in with what might prove to be his finest role yet in Mesrine (Momentum) . This breathless story – inspired by the life and times of notorious French criminal Jacques Mesrine – has been divided into two complementary movies Killer Instinct and Public Enemy #1, which chart Mesrine’s development from nervous soldier to petty hoodlum to hunted international criminal.
Both movies play fast and loose with the truth, skipping through Mesrine’s improbably dangerous life story with a casual disregard for anything that be could be considered dull! Slick and violent, and peppered with impressively psychotic interludes, these two trigger-happy flicks are genuinely hard to fault.
Mesrine himself is a fascinating anti-hero, and his story is told with the appropriate verve by director Jean-Francois Richet, whose previous claim-to-fame was the dubious 2005 remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. The movies seemingly unfold at the cinematic crossroads where gritty 70s crime movies meet Quentin Tarantino’s post-modern gangster fables. It is a credit to Richet that he can channel his well-worn influences into a biographical movie and still concoct something that is more than the sum of its parts. Of course, Cassel helps, and his brooding blend of brains and brutality is fascinating to watch. Four hours in the company of a charming scumbag with a jaw-dropping reckless streak could easily be a draining experience, but Cassel’s ice-cold amorality keeps you gripped. Heavily recommended.
Park Chan-Wook carved himself a fearsome niche with his disturbingly effective Vengeance Trilogy, and now he’s back with another dose of cinematic blood-loss. Thirst (Palisades Tartan) tells the story of Sang-Hyun, a priest who volunteers for a secret vaccine research project intended to eradicate a deadly virus. Unfortunately for him, the experiment goes awry, and Sang-Hyun finds himself in need of a blood transfusion. Even worse, the new blood is infected and the priest ends up a vampire! Sang-Hyun quickly succumbs to his all-consuming desire for bodily fluids, and before long his erratic behaviour attracts the attentions of his best friend’s wife, who begs to join him in his new-found life of vampiric lust. When he relents, the duo embark upon a rampant sex ‘n’ blood binge that is destined to end badly.
Thirst pushes Park’s twisted sense of humour and distinctive visual style to the fore, and although it isn’t as immediate or disturbing as Oldboy, it is strangely compelling, and subverts vampire mythology to satisfying effect. That said, its ponderous pace may well alienate viewers with a taste for more visceral thrills. If lacklustre teen-fodder like Twilight makes you thirsty for something a bit more offbeat, you should dip into Thirst. Believe me – vampire movies don’t get any stranger than this! At the end of the day, as long as Park Chan-Wook carries on making movies as aggressively strange as Thirst we can all happily ignore nonsense like the upcoming Oldboy remake starring Will Smith!
Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz have forged one of the most enduring cinematic partnerships of recent years, and the fruits of the pair’s latest collaboration can now be seen in Broken Embraces (Pathe) . Considering the duo’s history of mutual motivation, it is no surprise that Almodovar’s new movie focuses on the perils facing a love-struck artist and his muse. Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar) is a renowned writer-director with a string of successful movies to his name. His world is thrown into turmoil when he meets Magdelena (Penelope Cruz) a secretary-turned-call-girl who is eager to escape from the demanding clutches of her wealthy but demanding lover Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez). Generous Ernesto finances the movie, only to grow frustrated by his girlfriend’s increasingly distant behaviour. He sets his maladjusted son on their trail, and the teen exposes the pair’s affair. Suffice to say, things go downhill from there!
The twisted, flashback-fuelled narrative is pure Almodovar, and his sordid plot strands entwine like naked bodies throughout. No one makes corrosive melodramas quite like Almodovar, and Broken Embraces adds a dose of Hitchcock-style intrigue to his vivid brew. Broken Embraces urges viewers to peel away the layers of the movie and see what lurks beneath. Unfortunately, the answer is ‘not much’. Almodovar’s sensual filmmaking is a joy to watch, but as it meanders towards its underwhelming conclusion Broken Embraces feels like a missed opportunity. Unfortunately, by the end, the sly narrative has swallowed itself whole, leaving little behind for more discerning viewers. All in all, effortlessly watchable, but nowhere near Almodovar’s best.
Last, but certainly not least, this week is The Army of Crime (Optimum), a thought-provoking World War 2 drama that follows the exploits of an intrepid band of Jews, Hungarians, Poles and Armenians in German-occupied Paris. Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) is a poet and factory worker who spearheads the resistance fight-back alongside his wife Melinee (Virginie Ledoyen from The Beach). Their quiet rebellion quickly swells into something more aggressive, and their fight against the encroaching Fascist dictatorship earns them the attentions of the French police who are more than happy to do the Nazi’s dirty work for them. As Manouchian’s rag-tag army grows, so do the risks, and the level-headed leader struggles to manage the clashing philosophies of his followers. The Army of Crime is an unusual, absorbing movie that illuminates a corner of 20th century history as yet untroubled by the Hollywood spotlights. Furthermore, director Robert Guediguian eschews flashy theatrics in favour of good, old-fashioned storytelling. With a story this intense he was always bound to come up trumps.