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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-08-27

A critically acclaimed biopic about France's former public enemy number one, a charismatic bank robber, kidnapper and killer, starring Vincent Cassel (pictured), has finally hit US cinemas over two years after its original release in France.

Over thirty years after the death of French gangster Jacques Mesrine, director Jean-François Richet has made not just one but two films about the notorious gangster’s life, and it has finally hit US cinema screens.

Vincent Cassel stars as the legendary French criminal - having put on 20 kilos for the role - alongside a plethora of well-respected actors of the French silver screen, such as Ludivine Sagnier and Mathieu Amalric. The first part, “Mesrine, the instinct of death” came out in French cinemas back in 2008. The second, “Mesrine: public enemy No.1”, came out a month after. The first part is already out in the United States, with the second due out next week.

The film earned high praise from the French press on its initial release. “Coherant, rigourous and with great rhythm,” wrote the magazine Première; “a brilliant exercise in style”, affirmed French daily Le Monde. American reviewers have been equally positive, with the Boston Herald describing Cassel as “magnificent” and The New York Times reporting that the film is “continuously riveting, visceral entertainment that evokes a Gallic “Scarface.””

France's most famous gangster

Jacques Mesrine, who was nicknamed “the man with a hundred faces”, is without a doubt the most famous French gangster. The son of a businessman committed his first burglary at the age of 23. Hold-ups, kidnappings, armed robbieries – the gangster’s list of crimes is long and epic. His death in a shoot-out with an elite French police force in the heart of Paris in October 1979, only contributed to his legend.

The film begins briskly, with a striking scene set in wartime Algeria, in 1959. In an interview with Agence France Presse, Jean-François Richet admitted that this scene represented "the end of innocence" for Jacques Mesrine, in whom he sees "a kind of anarchist, an anti-establishment figure: the guy who doesn’t want to be stereotyped”. The production – which cost 35 millions euros – showcases a violent, manipulative character, who was ready to do anything to get what he wants.

The actor Vincent Cassel, who plays Mesrine, compares the two-part film to “two themes which complete each other”. The first tells the story of a young man who is trying to find himself; the second that of a man who knows where the choices he makes in life will take him. The actor summarises it as follows: “The first is a film noir. The second, on the other hand, is more of a psychological thriller, the paranoia of a guy who knows intuitively how it’s all going to end”.

However, photographer Alain Bizos, who knew Mesrine well, believes the film is off the mark: He states, “They make him out to be a right idiot, you don’t feel the brilliant, smart and intelligent guy that he really was”.

Photo credit: Roger Arpajou – LA PETITE REINE


Date created : 2010-08-27