Struggling to decide what to watch on a quiet Sunday afternoon? Have no fear, Impact Film are here to suggest some little gems you may not be aware of. Every weekend from now until the end of term we will strive to widen your viewing options and enlighten you in the form of little indie flicks, B movie disasters and hidden foreign treasures. (All films available from your local rental shop, online store or torrent sharing site*)
Mesrine Part 1 and 2 (2008)
Do you like France? Do you like gangster films? If the answer to these questions is yes then there are two films that you must seek out immediately. They are Mesrine Part 1: Killer Instinct and Mesrine Part 2: Public Enemy Number 1; or L’instinct de mort et L’ennemi public n°1.
Released back in 2008, and now widely available on DVD and Blu-Ray to rent or buy from your local Lenton Blockbuster (of course other rental services are available) and also very likely to pop up on TV some obscure night this year, they are both films not to be missed. Each is 2 hours long and together they (very accurately) tell the story of notorious French gangster and media favourite: Jacques Mesrine.
So in a nutshell, Part 1 charts his rise from small time Parisian mobster to international jailbird; along the way he starts a family, gains some friends, gains lots of enemies, loses some friends and then loses his family. Part 2 continues the story as he effectively becomes a modern day Robin Hood, breaking free from prisons for fun, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor (but only when the poor help him through a road block by hiding him in the boot of their car). And as the story concludes Mesrine’s previously money driven motives become political which brings a swift end to his activities.
At the time of their release, the two films became the critics’ favourite stick with which to beat Michael Mann’s own (lacklustre) effort on the gangster biopic Public Enemies. And Part 1 in particular is far superior in both style and in sheer enthrallment (although Part 2 unfortunately drops the ball slightly). Mesrine is portrayed with a powerhouse of a performance from Vincent Cassel, one of France’s biggest transnational film stars. One of the defining features of the two films is how Cassel makes such a charismatic and likeable anti-hero out of a man who had such a horrendous taste for violence and misogyny. And he received much subsequent praise for the role, including a César Award for Best Actor. You can see him physically changing across the two films from the younger, lanky and dashing Mesrine to the older, fat and grizzly Mesrine. Incidentally, having gained a significant amount of weight to play the older Mesrine (with a resulting look not unlike Robert De Niro in the second half of Raging Bull), the two films were then shot in reverse chronology so that Cassel could gradually lose the weight he’d gained to then become the young Mesrine.
If you do not usually like foreign films I am guessing that this would be due to the issue of subtitles. So let me just say that you absolutely must give Mesrine a chance (Part 1 at the least), because with so much terrific action (car chases, bar brawls, prison breaks etc) the reading of subtitles is not something that you will find particularly taxing with these two films. Together they are more interesting and exhilarating than any of your standard, mind numbingly-dumb Hollywood fare. If you are a fan of the Bourne films then you are guaranteed to enjoy this as it borrows the brilliantly slick pacing of both scenes of frenetic action and of people simply walking quite quickly. So give it a chance, and if you do enjoy it then may I suggest Nikita and A Prophet as some further reading which will take you deeper within the same field.
The Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)
If it’s the weekend and your mind is completely overwhelmed by quantum mechanics or the politics of Plato all you really need is a film which requires no thought what so ever, look no further than the ultra under-rated horror/comedy B movie Return of the Killer Tomatoes. The name pretty much sums up exactly what the film is about; Crazy scientist wants to wreak havoc once again on a small American village using his evil mutated tomatoes whilst a pizza delivery boy and his friend (George Clooney no less!) attempt to stop him and win the girl of their dreams.
The plot isn’t entirely without holes and you don’t need to know anything about the original film, but some of the brilliant lines and parodies of American consumer culture, including the film industry itself, make it a hugely watchable film. If you don’t expect to see any fantastic special effects or Oscar winning performances (except perhaps from Clooney’s hair, which never appears out of place, not even after running away from giant, hairy tomatoes!) then Return of the Killer Tomatoes should be high on your list of lazy Saturday afternoon movies. And be prepared to never look at tomatoes in the same way again.
Open Hearts (2002)
Open Hearts is an intimate Danish drama that focuses on two couples and how their lives are simultaneously thrown together and torn apart after a car accident. Relationships are tested as happily married and successful doctor, Niels, falls for a twenty-something blonde he never should have met. So far, so run of the mill. However this is a finely crafted drama that is emotional but never melodramatic. The characters are complex, and refreshingly it’s never clear – despite the disloyalty and deceit – who’s supposed to have the moral high-ground.
Made as part of the Dogme 95 movement that promotes originality and realism in films, Open Hearts is a far franker look at the repercussions of infidelity and the motives of the people involved, than any standard Oscar-hunting Hollywood fare. Although the film sounds rather tough going (and it is), don’t let this put you off. It’s still an outstanding example of understated storytelling that lingers long after the credits roll.
A personal favourite and one that serious film lovers should watch is Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. The plot centres around the story of Oh Dae-Su, who has been locked up in a room for 15 years. His lack of knowledge about his captors or the motives behind his imprisonment so drives him into insanity, with TV being his ‘teacher, friend and lover’. After suddenly being let out, he begins his brutal search for his captor. Though the plot sounds like the generic revenge story, it soon turns into a twisted, psychological, romantic thriller. Whilst it’s easy to get lost in the various plot twists that Chan-wook repeatedly hammers into our heads, the end result is a climax that is truly sadistic, disturbing and shocking in nature.
This is certainly not a film to watch lazily, and is one that will require a second viewing. Nor is it a film for those with weak stomachs, with its use of violence, D.I.Y dentistry, suicide and a notorious ‘octopus scene’. Overall Oldboy is a brilliantly acted, dark, violent and thrilling feat of cinema that challenges our concept of the traditional, Hollywood revenge story with nightmarish and horrifying consequences.
*Note, if you choose this option Peter Mandelson could get quite angry.