“I pity the French Cinema because it has no money…I pity the American Cinema because it has no ideas.” Jean-Luc Godard
While this is certainly a generalisation, in many ways it still rings true today that French Cinema – perhaps along with Asian Cinema – has had the most profound influence on Hollywood than any other. Godard was a fore runner of the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ movement during the 60’s. His criticism of the ‘American approach’ in which “emphasized craft over innovation, privileged established directors over new directors and preferred the great works of the past to experimentation” is legendary. His radical ideas towards film-making paved the way for a plethora of French talent and generations of future directors/writers/producers/cinematographers etc. One of those was Luc Besson.
Besson was already a household name throughout Europe and had much success with the likes of Fifth Element, Nikita and Leon all over the globe when he came to write and direct this beautifully crafted and heart-warming tale of a dishonest man struggling to make ends meet in the backdrop of the City of Light.
At the heart of the story is Andre (Jamel Debbouze), a nobody, bouncing from scam to scam, trying desperately to rid himself of his debt problems only to run into more. He has one last chance. With nowhere to go and in an effort to escape his seemingly pointless existence he climbs over the edge of a bridge, ready to give himself up to the Seine.
Enter Angela (Rie Rasmussen) a sexy, sultry blonde with legs to die for and a figure to match. She’s standing on the bridge too and she jumps first. Andre follows her in, selflessly saving her from certain death.
And now our real story begins. It’s very evident – and never really disguised – that our blonde is in fact an angel sent to help Andre find himself, his true soul and the beauty of his humanity. Angela, like a therapist, tells Andre where he goes wrong and gently nudges him in the right direction and in a rather obvious but sentimental way she entitles him to be the one who chooses his own actions. She even says she will do whatever he wants, which elicits some awkward but nonetheless humorous scenes of sexual intrigue.
Debbouze and Rasmussen, although an odd couple, seem to gel well together on screen which makes for a more believable premise. Forget about angels here. Forget about any supernatural presence. This is a story of man on a discovery of self-esteem and righteousness. How can anyone not like Debbouze? His adorable facial expressions scream self pity, which is integral to his character. The ending doesn’t surprise, but this is a film not steeped in red herrings. It doesn’t try to shock, but it will pull at your heartstrings a tad.
Shot seductively in black & white and showcasing Central Paris like a postcard, this never fails to deliver and for me it ticked all the boxes. It does move along at a slow pace, which is unusual for a Besson film, but this one is more about character and setting, rather than blowing your mind with action visuals and over the top special effects. A warm, sensitive ode to Paris and the everyday man. Well done Mr Besson.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter