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Based on the novel Un Reglement de Comptes by Jose Giovanni on which
legendary auteur Jean-Pierre Melville based his classic 1966 film, one
has to admire the balls on Alain Corneau for tackling the same source
material. A more colorful adaptation of the Giovanni novel, SECOND
BREATH rejects all things black and white. Headlamps are amber and
there's even a jaundiced light over black and white crime scene photos.
In fact, Corneau's SECOND BREATH isn't just colorful; it's garish. Hues
are saturated to stratospheric levels.
Apart from the color and some intensified violence, Corneau's version of SECOND BREATH is an exercise in redundancy for fans of the original Melville film. It's not to say that Corneau's film is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's simply just not necessary.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
French director Alain Corneau has spent so much of his recent career
making mood and character pieces that don't really go anywhere that
it's all too easy to forget he started out making thrillers. From the
poor critical and box-office reaction to his 2007 version of Le
Deuxieme Soufflé, or The Second Wind as it's called on UK DVD, he might
have regretted going back to his old stamping ground for what would be
his penultimate film, especially after the unflattering comparisons
with Jean-Pierre Melville's 1966 version of Jose Giovanni's novel, but
it's a surprisingly effective thriller on its own terms. While it's
relatively unusual to see him handling a story with a distinct
beginning, middle and end these days, he responds surprisingly well to
the pulp material and even improves on some aspects of Melville's
version. Whereas Melville's film, not one of his best by any stretch of
the imagination, was a few set pieces the director was interested in
and a lot of exposition he wasn't, Corneau's version (co-written by
Giovanni) feels like a more complete narrative that has its director's
complete attention throughout and one that doesn't outstay its welcome
at two-and-a-half hours.
The film's biggest hurdle is its usually reliable leading man. A miscast Daniel Auteuil convincingly conveys the out of shape and past it aspect of his escaped con looking for a big score to fund his getaway only to find himself set up as an informer and desperate to clear his name but, despite looking surprisingly like a shrunken Lino Ventura in a couple of sequences, lacks the iconic presence the part really needs and never really comes into his own until the last third. We learn more about the character from the way other characters describe him than we ever get out of his performance, resulting in a nominal leading man who never really lives up to his constant buildup ("In this rotten world, he has the guts to accept what he does - the supreme elegance of a lost man. Gu signs his crimes," "He has the luxury of having nothing to lose while we just dabble in felony"). While the discrepancy between what he was, what he is now, how others see him and how he sees himself is intentional, Auteuil still comes up short because you simply can't imagine him ever being the stuff of underworld legend.
Far more convincing is Eric Cantona, a credibly thuggish presence as a loyal partner in crime he doesn't need to be a great actor because his look and his bearing does all the work for him. But then this is a film where the supporting characters are often more interesting than the anti-hero. Despite a disappointing opening scene that pales beside Paul Meurisse's showstopping entrance in Melville's film, Michel Blanc soon makes the part of the world-weary flic on Auteuil's trail his own, while Jacques Dutronc brings more depth to the stylish but noncommittal intermediary Orloff than is probably on the page. Daniel Duval's wonderfully named thief Venture Ricci and Philippe Nahon's brutal cop have less to work with but still manage to make an impression, though the best that can be said for Monica Bellucci's moll is that while she may not be particularly good she's not particularly bad enough to be a problem.
It doesn't reach the epic heights you sense it might be aspiring to but the professional violence and the setpieces are well handled, with the big heist (now taking place in a warehouse district rather than a country road) particularly effective. We also get to see the infamous water torture sequence that caused so many censorship problems in the previous adaptation this time, though the hiding the guns sequence that made such an impression on John Woo is missing this time round. It's more stylised than Melville's film, with dreamlike slow motion in some scenes and an unreal color scheme of simultaneously saturated but slightly sickly reds, greens and amber throughout looking more like a Jeunot and Caro film or the kind of unreal color of a 60s comic book than the classic noir or neo-noir look. The film only changes to natural color in the film's closing shot as the public a few indistinct innocent bystanders notwithstanding. otherwise unseen for the entire movie return to reclaim the scene of the crime, oblivious to the violence that took place there as they go about their everyday lives as if in a parallel world. And while, at the end of the day the film may not have much more to say than that criminals live in a different and more exaggerated world to the rest of us, if you take it as simply a decent thriller that's probably enough.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You may prefer the Jean-Pierre Melville's film, made thirty one years
earlier. I do too. Here the visual grammar is absolutely different from
the Melville's feature. Nothing in common, if you consider the way of
filming. Nothing at all.
But this film is however more faithful to the José Giovanni's novel than the Melville's masterpiece was, in 1966. In this film - the old one - for instance, the Relationship between Gu and Manouche's characters were very complex. Because the audiences never actually knew if the two were only long time friends - as could have been two men - lovers or brother and sister...If you Watch closely the Melville's film, you'll notice that. And it was perfectly in the Melvilles touch to bring such ambiguity.
On the contrary, in this 2007 version, the Relationship between Gu and Manouche - Bellucci and Auteuil - are very explicit, clear, plain. It is exactly what Giovanni wrote in his book.
The action sequences in the Corneau's movie are very inspired by the Asian - Hong Kong - cinema. Thanks Johnny To. Who was himself inspired by Melville...But on another way of filming. We can also find something from Sam Peckinpah here. Slow move gunfights, extreme violence in the WILD BUNCH way, and the funeral odyssey of the lost hero, unable to face the modern world for which he couldn't deal with anymore.
A rather good remake, even if you can prefer the genuine material.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This bombed in France last year but one doesn't write off the likes of Alain Corneau and Daniel Auteuil lightly so when it surfaced at the French Film Festival in London I was present and correct. By a strange coincidence Phil Corneau - apparently no connection with Alain despite copping a prestigious French Award - made a short with the same title a few years ago but this is, of course, a remake of the Jean-Pierre Melville entry now just over forty years old. Daniel Auteuil is indisputably a superior actor to Lino Ventura, who created the role of 'Gu' Minda for Melville but Ventura inhabited the role of Minda in a way that appears beyond Auteuil though honors are divided more or less evenly between Paul Meurisse and Michel Blanc in the role of the intrepid cop determined to bring Minda down. The third lead, Monica Belucci is, of course, a joke as an actress and there's a woeful lack of chemistry between her and Auteuil - or indeed anyone with whom she shares a scene. Jacques Dutronc is arguably the best actor on display or, more accurately, the actor who best adapts his style to this particular film. Corneau opted for a bizarre color, something between Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy and South Pacific and if, as seems probably, he did so inn order that the final sequence, over the end credits, could revert to a 'normal' color and make the point that there is indeed a 'normal' i.e. non-gangster world out there it seems an awful lot of trouble to make such a small point. Worth a look. Just.
There's already a heavy legacy of polar noir, gangster films, in
France. What's really left after Jean Gabin, Belmondo, Alain Delon,
Jean-Pierre Melville? Of course the addictive detective novelist
Georges Simenon wrote dozens and dozens of compelling novels. Bela Tarr
just adapted one of the more obscure ones. And why not have a stab at
This movie shows you why not. The only thing justifying a director as known as Alain Corneau (Tous les matins du monde, with Depardieu and son; Fear and Trembling, with Sylvie Testud) being attached to it is that he got name actors, headed by Daniel Auteuil (in a little mustache that makes him look bloated) and Monica Bellucci (who'd look better here if she were blowsier and tackier and more soulful, as Simone Signoret was). This is the degeneration of a genre and a tradition that reached perfection in the Fifties and Sixties in France. Arguably French crime movies have succeeded better of late by following new American models, in slum-revolt stuff like Jean-François Richet's 1997 Ma 6-T va crack-er ("My City Is Going To Crack") or updated caper knockoffs like Florent Emilio Siri's 2002 Nid de guêpes (Nest of Vipers). Todd McCarthy's Variety review of Corneau's new film says, "it will be a hard sell Stateside, where its style and substance will appear both out of step and out of date." Correct. Seen in Paris with a sparse middle-aged audience, it looked like a strictly local artifact.
I don't believe I've seen the 1966 Jean-Pierre Melville version of this Jose Giovanni novel about an escaped lifer who stages that one last big job to raise the money to leave the country. But after seeing the bargain basement Brian De Palma nightclub shootout in ugly, garish color that opens Corneau's new film, I kept thinking of the wonderful bank robbery that begins Melville's 1972 Un flic/A Cop. This garish look may be meant to echo recent US graphic novel celluloid; if so that's just another miscalculation. Where Melville was sparse understatement, Corneau's sequence is clumsy excess. It's preceded by an escape sequence featuring Auteuil as main character Gu (Gustave Minda) that is so brief it fails to establish context. The nightclub scene that blasts the opening away is so noisy it also overwhelms most of the action that follows.
Gu in Melville's version was played by Lino Ventura. He himself seemed always stolid and second rate, but in a brave, determined sort of way that was noir personified; and he shines in recent memory through the recent revival of Melville's resistance study, Army of Shadows. Auteuil has none of that inner-ness; he's pure bluster. Auteuil's perpetually uncomfortable look works well enough in a comedy like The Valet and My Best Friend. Michael Haneke used it brilliantly and on a far higher level in his 2005 Caché. The look seems out of place in a gangster condemned to life who initiates one last big job--a desperate man of desperate courage. In Melville's version, Paul Meurisse plays Gu's adversary, the foxy Commissaire Blot. We also remember the wonderfully mournful-countenanced Meurice from Army of Shadows. Corneau uses Michel Blanc, a little bullish man with an annoying cockiness. Where is suave disdain when we need it?
The big robbery of some trucks that involves killing people (and more garish reds) is fairly effective, but is the kind of sequence that, as McCarthy noted, has been done many times before by a Hollywood that has moved on to other things. Corneau's staging has none of the kinetic energy of the warehouse robbery in Siri's Nest of Vipers (and even that was just able mimicry of recent American movies).
This is a Sixties story that keeps introducing Forties and Fifties cars. The sense of period is as shaky as the awareness of what's up-to-date.
Some of the French critics seem to have been impressed by the flashy colors and flamboyant acting of Corneau's remake. They are impressed by a roster of other actors with good recent track records that includes Jacques Dutronc, Eric Cantona, Philippe Nahon, Gilbert Melki, Jean-Paul Bonnaire--lots of reliable pros here. But that doesn't make this a good movie, or make up for the lack of chemistry between Auteuil and Bellucci. At two hours and thirty-five minutes, this is an albatross as well as a travesty.
The gangster genre under Melville was always a little philosophical, a
little Sartrean, as it examined the motives of men in the world of
crime. It added an extra chic to an otherwise American style of story
telling set amongst alleys and bars and clouds of cigarette smoke.
That style can also lead into pretentiousness, as though the thinness of the story and the genre form of the characters can be raised to higher art if it is treated as long drama. But to do that, deeper themes need exploring, the capacity to be a writer, a filmmaker, of real effect is required and that is not possible in the strict genre of gangster movies.
Unfortunately what is on offer here is simple but overly long. It's pompous. It seems as if there might be something more to it but there isn't. The story has been seen many times before and this treatment at two and half hours could be cut by 40 minutes without any loss. The extra tracking shots; the shots with the cars all leaving a street in real time could be cut because we know what happens, the cars go to another place. Easy. The windy long dialog, which is not very engaging could be shortened and made tougher just like gangster pictures were once made. These are men talk in stabs and gunshots.
But of greater weakness is the entire ensemble cast and especially Auteuil who should never have been chosen, he brings too many other roles to this and he lacks the beady eyed killer instinct. Bellucci is not very involved but for her Brigitte Bardot hairstyle and Dutronc does what Dutronc often does.
Consequently the hats take over as every male has one and the lighting is all yellow and green filter throughout perhaps to represent the past so the overall effect is like an adults comic book, or some other pastiche of the genre because the story may be too tired and unable to be delivered straight.
The feeling when it's over and done is also faintly philosophical: two and half hours have passed and you are older but perhaps no wiser for losing the time.
Good plot with great actors, but they seem to act like beginners! This
movie is a bad copy of Michel Audiard style dialogs, no where near as
The actors seem board stiff. Did they need cash that bad?!
I haven't seen the original movie with Lino Ventura, but I'm keen on watching it to be able to compare.
The picture is fuzzy and the sound bad (I didn't understand all the dialogs), but perhaps this was due to the cinema, which is a local one (250 seats, one film at a time, but really cheap entry!).
This movie is just not worth it.
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