Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Arsène Lupin (2004)

Gentleman thief Arsène Lupin (Romain Duris) steals from the rich, mostly by soulfully/smarmily flirting with women while he steals their jewellery from their throats, though right now he’s wanted for murder because he was a bit too good at ducking during a police chase. There’s a lot of melodramatic hither and yon about the possible return of the mysterious person who killed his (thief and savate master) father, a former childhood friend who grew up into a young Eva Green, and the film’s need to play swelling music at every possible opportunity.

Eventually, Lupin finds himself on the trail of three crosses that somehow disclose the hiding place of the lost French Crown Jewels. Other parties are involved too. A secret society with the goal to bring back the monarchy lead by the Duc D’Orleans (Mathieu Carrière), the sinister Beaumagnan (Pascal Greggory) and finally Joséphine de Cagliostro (Kristin Scott Thomas), professional femme fatale and possible immortal evil, are all searching for the crosses. Lupin naturally teams up with Joséphine but there just may be various twists and turns in his future that suggest this to have been not a very good choice at all.

Jean-Paul Salomé’s rethinking of everyone’s favourite gentleman thief is a truly peculiar film, seeing as it mixes French blockbuster style action and adventure, melodrama turned up to Eleven like in one of those French swashbucklers the nouvelle vague directors loathed so much, with a bit of the style of the French serials a la Feuillade the same nouvelle vague directors adored. The resulting film is certainly individual yet also the sort of thing even someone quite predisposed to its style might just hate when she’s seeing it in the wrong mood, because Arsène Lupin is utterly unrelenting to point of obnoxiousness.

It’s not enough for this film to have loudly scored action scenes in a style as old-fashioned as they are on the technical state of the art, it has to have the loudest, most old-fashioned action scenes; it’s not enough for it to be as melodramatic as a French roman feuilleton, it needs to be the most melodramatic thing possible. More often than not, this rather shrill approach to just about everything turns out to be rather effective, perhaps because the film’s overblown style isn’t a product of irony (though there is a bit of ironic humour in the film) but something it has come by honestly by taking itself seriously to a degree that borders on the absurd. On the other hand, the film’s overblown approach does make it impossible for it to be subtle in any way, shape or form, with everyone and everything in it having larger-than-life dimensions, and nobody and nothing having much to do with actual human beings or the actual world we live in. Fortunately, the film clearly isn’t trying for even the faintest whiff of reality, and more involved with working on a palette based on a pretty, loud surface.

Salomé did hire the right actors to perform here, too. While I’m not particularly excited by Duris’s Lupin, and think Eva Green is rather wasted on the damsel-in-distress-with-excellent-uterus (and yes, that’s kind of a plot point, alas) part of Clarisse - in fact, I’d have cast him as Clarisse and her as Lupin – the rest of the cast is absolutely perfect, with Thomas in particular pulling out all of the stops in textbook examples of controlled uncontrolled over-acting that are a joy to watch.

Unfortunately, Arsène Lupin’s general pomposity also results in a film that by far overstays its welcome, with a film that should have ended when a certain character falls down a cliff (you know, when the film’s actual plot is over) droning on and on and on for twenty-five long further minutes that try and (very loudly) fail to pack a full sequel into half an hour, ending the proceedings on the sourest note possible for no reason I could make out.

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