Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Vidocq – review

Director: Pitof

Release date: 2001

Contains spoilers

Not a traditional vampire film, my friend Leila suggested that this might be suitable for a ‘Vamp or Not?’ I believe that the central villain of this – the Alchemist – does fall into the Vamp area and decided to plump straight for review.

My main disappointment is that I had not heard of this before. A French fantastique rendered to film – there were moments that reminded me visually of City of Lost Children (unsurprising given director Pitof was on the visual effects team for that film, as well as the underrated Alien Resurrection – though we should also note that he went on from this to direct Catwoman!) I was also reminded of the sublime Brotherhood of the Wolf – though this was more urbane (set in Paris rather than the countryside) and had a dirty gothic undertow.

chasing the Alchemist
More fascinating was the fact that Vidocq is a historical figure who was a criminal who went on to create and be head of the Sûreté and, later, formed the world’s first detective agency. He is known as the father of criminology. In this he is played by Gérard Depardieu, the year is 1830 and Vidocq is racing through a glass blowing factory. He passes through to a more quiet area and sees a cloaked figure and gives chase. He and the figure eventually fight and we see that the Alchemist (as he is known) wears a mirrored mask. Vidocq finally falls into a pit furnace, clinging to the side. The Alchemist (out of the viewer’s sight) lifts the mask to show Vidocq their face and the detective falls.

 Gérard Depardieu as Vidocq
Vidocq’s partner, Nimier (Moussa Maaskri), is clearly upset at the death of his partner (of whom there is naught but ashes left). He takes to the bottle when there is a hammering at the door. The young man introduces himself as Etienne Boisset (Guillaume Canet, Love Bites) a journalist and biographer who was to write Vidocq’s biography. Nimier doesn’t believe it but Etienne insists that it is true and suggests that if he finds and names the killer it will avenge Vidocq.

stealing a soul
The film then shows flashbacks to Vidocq’s last investigation entwined with Etienne’s own search for the truth. Eventually he discovers the name of the villain – the Alchemist – and uncovers a strange truth. The mystery, of course, is around the identity of the Alchemist and so there is little spoiler in revealing the vampiric aspect. The Alchemist turns out to be a half-myth boogieman who is said to be able to steal souls within the mirror of the mask. The mirror for the mask is made using the blood of virgins – for the purity thereof – and the Alchemist then feeds upon the stolen souls maintaining eternal youth. The film does other interesting things with mirrors that, given the vampiric aspect, is really rather special but also too much of a spoiler to relay.

The Alchemist also seems to have a range of movement that far exceeds human, moving with a fast fluidity that seems preternatural, is able to survive massive falls, and displays the ability to vanish and reappear elsewhere. At one point the cloak is opened and a flock of pigeons is released (rather than bats). The fast movement of the character suits the fast and idiosyncratic filming style that lends the film its own particular atmosphere.

opulent style
The film has a core talent at its heart that would always help elevate it. Visually it is stunning, although I can imagine the unusual camerawork and breakneck speed will not be to everybody’s taste. Apparently, it was the first feature film shot with the Sony digital 1080p 24 fps cameras to reach the screen. For me, however, it was a piece of cinematic gold and well worth watching. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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