"Ni Pour, Ni Contre" tracks the fall of a young TV camerawoman, Caty, after she becomes involved with a group of petty criminals and their enigmatic leader, Jean. The gang lives hand-to-mouth until the day Jean plans a daring bank robbery. Although other gang members feel out of their league, Jean persuades them to take part and Caty finds herself in a hellish world of betrayal, violence and murder. Written by
I'm not for and I'm not against Cédric Klapisch's first try at film noir
The golden age of the film noir in French cinema was in the forties and fifties with two unforgettable names: Julien Duvivier and Henri-Georges Clouzot who have left films noir of first quality. Then, the high level persisted with Claude Chabrol in the late sixties. But nowadays, this cinematographic genre survives mainly by ripping off the models of American cinema. Here, with Cédric Klapisch in charge of this "ni pour ni contre (bien au contraire)" (2003), we can expect to a glimmer of hope to lend the film noir its credibility again.
We are a little surprised to find this terrific film-maker, a specialist of social comedies, trying his hand at a genre he has never broached. I'm a huge fan of his cinema, but here I can't make up my mind whether this first foray into an unknown domain was beneficial for him. It left me an impression of mixed although Klapisch's cinematographic writing is as good as usual. I will try to develop my own point of view about this film.
Firstly, Klapisch has always been fond of films noir and "ni pour ni contre (bien au contraire)" was a project which was close to his heart and it nearly never saw the light of day (he had written the first part of the film and then left it high and dry because he had difficulties to write the sequel. In the meantime, not to stay inactive, he decided to make "l'auberge espagnole" (2002) and after that took back "ni pour ni contre..." and managed to finish it). It is quite easy to detect Klapisch's major influences in his work: "Goodfellas" (1990) by Martin Scorsese, "Asphalt Jungle" (1949) by John Huston and Jean Pierre Melville's cinema.
Cédric Klapisch's film is divided in two quite patchy parts. Let's begin with the first part: it is quite decent although it is not free from shortcomings. One one hand, there's humor which enables to make less alarming the seriousness of certain situations and on the other hand, the film gets off to a good start with a conclusive introduction about the main characters in their respective social backgrounds. It's also a pleasure to see the director taking out again weapons he wonderfully masters such as the suggestion and what is left unsaid (concerning the character Katy, we can feel that she's quite unhappy in her life just by looking her dull face and by the way, Marie Gillain has never been so beautiful in this film). Then, Klapisch still handles in a clever way his camera: to emphasize on the fact that Katy feels very lonely in her life, the camera leaves from her face and stops in front of the building in which she lives. As for the gang, it avoids as much as possible caricature. The director makes a both funny and dangerous portrait. Of all the members, Zinedine Soualem plays best his game. You have to see him giving lessons of dancing. Nevertheless, the gang's life is partly based on stereotypes, notably when they wallow in money and easy life.
But things go wrong in the second part when the movie tells the careful preparations of the stickup and the quite violent consequences of the operation. From here onwards, the director wants to be more serious, more suspenseful and it brings about both a quite rough changing of tone, a serious lack of cohesion with the rest and it harms the unity of the film as a whole. Let's also regret an alternate editing of quite bad taste. It's a shame because it is in this second part that the most representative elements of the film noir are exploited: nocturnal scenes, disturbing scenery, sticky atmosphere. And the end is successful because it is immoral. It also echoes one sequence of the beginning of the film when Katy scratches a "Banco" card.
In the end, we've got a courageous but rather failed attempt from Klapisch to renew the film noir. That said, if take on account the fact that the real good French films noir become very rare, "ni pour ni contre (bien au contraire)" deserves indulgence in spite of the slight disappointment we can feel at the end the projection. As for Cédric Klapisch, let's hope he will make up for it with the sequel of "l'auberge espagnole", "les poupées russes" which will be released in June 2005.
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