Monday, March 01, 2010


In MESRINE PART 2: PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 1 we see Mesrine in frumpy middle-age, already notorious as a bank robber and serial prison escapee, but now trying to fuel his reputation with an ill-judged foray into political terrorism. The second part of this all-star cast biopic of the real French thug is thus a tale of hubris and decline, neatly cancelling the glamour, raciness and sheer absurdity of his daring exploits in the first film. Vincent Cassel puts on weight and a series of fruity wigs to play the older Mesrine and he is convincing as a man out of time. The bank robberies of the 1960s look rather quaint in the 1970s - a world where crime is a political act and the players are the PLO and the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Dramatically, Mesrine is contrasted with his co-conspirator Francois Besse (Mathieu Amalric). Besse just wants to keep his head down and out of prison. He doesn't understand Mesrine's need to fan his notoriety and to make ill-judged political forays. He doesn't understand Mesrine's need to taunt his victims - sitting in front of them in disguise and asking if they have had any trouble with a notorious bank robber. Despite the flashes of dark humour in such exchanges, the overall tone of this second film is one of tragedy. Mesrine is a debased and delusional man, kidding himself that his crimes, and his anger at the French state, has some deeper meaning. Even his relationships are debased. Rather than the more genuine love of the mother of his children, he now ends up with Sylvia (Ludivine Sagnier) - a woman who is attracted to Mesrine the myth rather than Mesrine the man.

As in the first film, the quality of the production in Part Two is top notch. From the costumes, to the architecture of the escape scenes to the acting - everything is impressive. I was particularly impressed that despite an opening shot that shows how Mesrine will be brought down, the film-makers still manage to sustain tension throughout, especially in the final sequences leading up to that event.

MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY NO 1 played Tokyo 2008 and was released in Belgium, France and Russia in November 2008. It opened in 2009 in the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Croatia, Israel, Slovakia, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Norway, Germany, Denmark, the UK and Japan. It is available on DVD.

Additional tags: jean-francois richet, abdel raouf dafri, gerard lanvin, olivier gourmet

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