(2006): Directed by Mel Gibson
Despite the fact that Mel Gibson is the Director of Apocalypto the film qualifies as World Cinema in respect of the co-writer Farhad Safinia being Iranian born, all of the actors are either Native American or Mayan, the subject matter is completely foreign but most of all because Mel Gibson has bravely chosen to use no other language than Mayan throughout the film.
Gibson made several "historic" films prior to this one - Mutiny On The Bounty being the best of them; Braveheart is one of Gibson's most popular films but suffers badly from a great deal of fiction injected into the so-called historical background and despite the rousing battle scenes it can never be considered anything like a serious account of William Wallace and his life. But if Braveheart lacks authenticity, then the execrable The Patriot plumbs the depths as far as historical accuracy is concerned. Whether it is his Aussie background which the cause, Gibson certainly has it in for the English in these two films and Colonel William Tavington ( Jason Isaacs) who is almost certainly based on the real-life Liverpudlian Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton, is portrayed as a sadistic English commander who is demonised by the (fictional ) atrocities he commits. Edward Longshanks played by Patrick McGoohan in Braveheart is demonised in the same way and the two men's roles could be almost interchangeable.
Because the above two films sacrificed authenticity for sensationalism when Apocalypto was released it was approached with some caution not least by myself. However, Gibson has at last produced a first-class adventure film based upon the declining days of the Mayan Empire and the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. There have been detractors of the historical authenticity of the film but although I am not qualified to comment they do appear to be from specialists in that particular field who will always have some bone to pick such is the extent of their knowledge. For the layman, the lives of Jaguar Paw (played by Rudy Youngblood), Seven, his wife ( Dalia Hernandez) and Turtle Run, his son, are as real as they can be, as they face the threat of the increasingly bloodthirsty Mayan priests in the dying days of the Mayan Empire, circa 1511.
The Mayan Empire is almost always known for its cruel and pagan religious rites but a contradictory reality of its existence was its sophisticated knowledge of science, medicine, cosmology and other disciplines which are not in evidence in the film. Apocalypto is primarily an adventure story which uses the dying days of the Mayans as a backdrop to the lives of Jaguar Paw and his family caught up in events not of their making - a thrilling nail-biter of a film as Jaguar Paw races against time and the Mayan warriors to rescue his wife and son. The heavily tattooed Mayan warriors are an enemy to be feared and they all present a terrifying picture of savagery, with painted bodies, heavily decorated faces in metal and bone and fearsome weapons - none more so than their leader Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) who incidentally played the Iroquois Chief in Black Robe. Of all the warriors, Middle Eye is the most terrifying of all - he takes pleasure in inflicting pain and is completely merciless with a sadism born of a cretinous lack of compassion. Middle Eye lives for nothing else but shedding blood in ever- varying cruel ways and as the tool of the Mayan priests he epitomises the decline of the Mayan race.
In a film which is replete with action and drama, one of the most evocative scenes is when the captive Mayans are taken to their place of execution in the Mayan city. Taken from their homes in the jungle, none of the native captives have ever seen the city, and their horror increases with every step as they enter into a necropolis of severed heads where slaves coated in limestone are worked to death cutting stone, macaws watch over rivulets of blood running in the street, flamboyant courtiers dressed like pantomime dames chatter endlessly as slaves are sold on the block and human heads stare out from poles driven through them. But worse is yet to come as it dawns upon the prisoners that as human heads bounce down the steps of the Mayan pyramid and still pulsing hearts are held aloft in triumph by the priests, that they themselves are soon to be victims of this Kingdom of Cruelty. While blood and gore, disease, squalor and corpses litter the streets, they exist side by side with the grandeur of the Mayan pyramids and it is one of the reasons why some historians believe that the decline of the Mayan empire was because the Mayan priests and royalty had descended into madness -on the evidence of this section of the film it is hard to disagree.
Apocalypto is the best thing that Mel Gibson has ever done and is so good that I can almost forgive him for his previous mangled histories.
La Haine (Hate) (1995) - Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
"We live like shit in rat-holes and you do sod all to change that!" - Vinz
On the face of it, La Haine is simply the story of three disenchanted French youths as they fill their empty lives and aimless days with petty crimes and inane banter, after the fashion of Mean Streets. However, the run-down tenements which are the backdrop to their feckless existence are not simply a backcloth to the action but are in fact the story itself and without knowing their history the film is virtually meaningless. The Council estates which have sprung up on the outer reaches of central Paris, are called banlieues - they are breeding grounds for vandalism, anti-social behaviour and drug dealing, with a multi-cultural community both alien and alienated to the average Parisian; Parisians know all this, the actors are more than aware of it and the Director takes it for granted that it is common knowledge - which may be true in France but is certainly not the case in other countries.
The banlieues are a true anachronism in that their origins can be traced back to French colonial days when Algerians, Malians, Tunisians, Vietnamese and others, flocked to Paris in their thousands with hopes of a better life in what they then regarded as some vague motherland. Most of them found that their newly acquired French language skills and native Arabic or African tongues were of little use in a city devoted to tourism where the lingua franca was English, and instead of living in some swish apartment close to the Eiffel Tower they found themselves banished to the wastelands beyond the péripherique, in places such as Vanves, Pantin and St Denis, with work limited to jobs such as cleaning laundry in hotel basements. The featureless high-rise blocks of the banlieus combined with an absence of work and a general atmosphere of exclusion is a toxic mix and inevitably led to resentment and it was a short step from there into a ghetto, where danger lies in wait for anyone foolish enough to wander into a land of burnt-out cars and hooded youths on every corner. The banlieus are a problem that has never been solved and it is a telling indictment of their continuing menace that 20 years after the making of La Haine, the terrorists who carried out the atrocities of November, 2015, in central Paris, hid among the rookeries of the St Denis banlieu. Although La Haine was filmed in the Paris suburb of Chanteloup-le-Vignes there is no specific banlieu mentioned in the film.
Kassovitz stated that the inspirations for La Haine were the death of Makome M'Bowole from Zaire, who was shot in 1993 while in police custody, the death of 22 year old student Malik Oussekine, beaten to death by riot police in 1986, mistakenly suspected of taking part in a street demonstration, and the Director's own experiences. There is a documentary feel to the film which focuses on the lives of three youths; Hubert, an Afro-French boxer (who looks like a young Sidney Poitier) played by Hubert Koundé, Saïd, an Arab, played by Saïd Taghmaoui, and Vinz, a Jew, ( Vincent Cassel) whose burning hatred and nihilism will ultimately lead to tragedy. In another time and another place Hubert would have made a success of his life, and Saïd could have easily reformed, but Vinz is a lost cause who spends hours in the mirror imitating Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and empowered by the finding of a police firearm becomes a force for his own and anyone else's destruction. There is no mention of the three friends being of different ethnic backgrounds but the suggestion is that all cultures become one when faced with the same adversities. With a background of rap music, what is also apparent is how all the youths are enamoured of American pop culture and much of the dialogue is peppered with references to Batman, Lethal Weapon, and revealing an underlying innocence, there are serious references to cartoon characters which are similar to the dialogue of the boys in Stand By Me .
La Haine is not a pleasant film but it does highlight the plight of the emigrants locked into their high-rise apartments like so many pigeons in a loft and it does illustrate clearly how young lives are wasted without meaningful work. Recently the situations highlighted in La Haine have taken on a new significance given the amounts of displaced people of all backgrounds roaming around Europe - they are seeking the same things that the French colonials did when they came to Paris all those years ago. It would be a tragedy all round if the newly displaced emigrants ended up the same way.
: Director Jean-François Richet. French/ Canadian film.
Based on Mesrine's memoirs in the book "L'Instinct de Mort " - Instinct for Death.
The film is very long and on DVD is split into two discs. The two parts below are a commentary on the life of Mesrine and split into two parts similar to the film.
"I don't like the laws and I don't want to be a slave of the alarm clock my whole life."
Brought up on a diet of sensational film titles designed to attract, there are very few British and American cinemagoers who would be
attracted to a film with such an enigmatic title; but throughout the 1960's and 1970's Mesrine was a household name as he made headlines around the world whilst running the French police ragged. It's tempting to think of Jacques Mesrine as a French John Dillinger and it is true to say that there are many similiarities - for instance; both men loved publicity and courted it assiduously; both robbed banks; both achieved notoriety by robbing two banks on the same day, sometimes across the same street; both enjoyed making fools of the law and both were expert at breaking out of jails. Mesrine and Dillinger also had such a devil-may-care attitude to the law that they both achieved the rare feat of breaking back into jails to release some of their friends. However, the similarities between the two men end there except for one final thing which was the manner in which they went to their deaths.
Mesrine was born in 1936 into a middle-class family in Clichy, a suburb of Paris, where he was expected to find a respectable job and live as his family lived in middle-class obscurity; although there is some suggestion in the film that Mesrine's father cooperated willingly with the Nazis during the occupation and it may have been some kind of rebellion on Mesrine's part which caused him to join the French army. As a paratrooper during the 1950's, Mesrine served in Algeria during the bitter fighting and was reputed to have been a part of a French death squad. On his return to Paris his military training served him well when he entered into the violent and sinister French underworld. It was there that he met Guido, a Godfather of Parisian crime played in the film by Gérard Depardieu, and under his influence became immersed irretreviably in a life of crime in which killing was an integral part.
In 1961 Mesrine met a Spanish girl named Maria De La Soledad and in a similar scenario to the Mafia gangsters depicted in Goodfellas and the Godfather, he married and saw no irony in bringing up a family in a solid, bourguois manner while living a duel life as a career gangster. It was at this time in 1962 that Mesrine served his first term of 18 months in jail followed by a further 6 months in 1965, both sentences were for robbery. Despite having three children with Mesrine, unlike the gangster's molls of American folklore, Maria could never reconcile the domestic and the dangerous and the couple divorced in 1965.
In 1966 Mesrine met Jeanne Schneider who was attracted to the aura of danger surrounding the gangster and they embarked on a lfe of crime together, robbing Parisian hotels and jewelry shops until police pursuit became so intense that they took the radical step of escaping to Canada. Mesrine had no intention of ever changing his way of life and it was while in Québec that in 1969, accompanied by the ever-faithful Schneider, he changed from bank robbing to kidnap as his favoured crime. The kidnapping attempt was doomed from the start and with the Canadian police hot on their trail, Mesrine and Schneider drove into the U.S.A. as far as Arkansas where they were apprehended by the American police and sent back to Québec. In 1970, Mesrine's association with Jeanne Schneider came to and when she received a sentence of 5 years for her part in the kidnap and he was sent to the maximum security prison, Saint Vincent-de-Paul, for a period of 10 years. It was in prison that Mesrine befriended Jean-Paul Mercier, a convicted murderer, and in 1972 the pair concocted a carefully conceived plan to cut through the wire while the guards were distracted by other prisoners. The escape was a complete success, making a mockery of the Canadian penal system, and while the prison guards licked their wounds, Mercier and Mesrine embarked on a series of robberies in Montreal. However, Mesrine was not satisfied with humiliating the Canadian authorities, he wanted revenge for perceived cruelty in prison and in a brave but madcap scheme, Mercier and Mesrine returned to Saint Vincent-de-Paul in an attempt to bring about a mass break-out. The scheme ended in a firefight with prison officers which caused the wounding of two prison officers and Mercier but achieved nothing except the burning resentment of Canadian police. Hatred of Mesrine and Mercier became white-hot when one week later while target shooting in a remote wilderness area, the two gangsters and Mercier's girlfriend were accosted by two Wildlife Rangers, resulting in the shooting of both Rangers who were far from young and far from capable of tackling the ruthless killers. The killings did not stop the two killers from robbing more banks in Montreal before Mesrine decided to leave Canada once and for all and he travelled to New York, staying at the Waldorf Astoria, before leaving for Venezuela and in 1972 returning to Paris.
Public Enemy No I
Similarly to Dillinger, Mesrine took great pride in being declared Public Enemy No I and back in Paris he once again pursued his old career robbing banks with a supreme disregard for the law. But in 1973 he was taken into custody and while awaiting his court appearance in a scene reminiscent of Michael Corleone's famous shooting of Captain Mark McCluskey in The Godfather Mesrine escaped using a gun hidden in the toilet cistern. Mesrine had made fools of the authorities once again but 4 months later he was back in custody and at his trial,
displaying a breathtaking display of hubris, proceeded to taunt the judge with a mixture of witty remarks and insults. However his grandstanding did little to endear him to the authorities and Mesrine was sentenced to 20 years penal servitude in La Santé Prison located near to the Lion statue at Denfert- Rochereau and considered impregnable. It was in La Santé Prison that Mesrine wrote "L'Instinct de Mort " which led to a new law passed by the French authorities preventing criminals from profiting from such books.
While in prison Mesrine met a jail-breaker as accomplished as himself named François Besse and together the two men hatched a plot to escape which involved a stolen pistol, illicit keys, grappling irons. ladders and a firefight; too complicated to elaborate on here, the escape was beyond daring and the product of a collaboration between two highly intelligent and determined escapees - it was the first time in history that the walls of La Santé had been breached.
Once free, Mesrine resumed his robberies accompanied by Besse, travelling to Sicily, Algeria, London, and Brussels until they returned to Paris
where Besse became alarmed at Mesrine's taunting of the police and also his departure from banditry and into the world of extreme politics; Mesrine began to see himself as a revolutionary and made contact with members of the Red Brigade, the Baader- Meinhof group and the Palestine Liberation Group causing Besse to leave Mesrine to his own devices. Mesrine became less interested in robbery and more into imaginative schemes which highlighted his own audacity and once again he tried kidnapping , one a failed attempt on a judge and another which reaped 6 million francs. In 1979, Mesrine kidnapped a French journalist named Jacques Tillier and in a brutal attack, he shot him three times; amazingly Tillier survived although he lost the use of one arm, but the attack outraged the French press which Mesrine had previously used for his own ends, famously appearing on the front cover of Paris Match in 1978.
But the French authorities had had enough of Mesrine's antics - taking him to court had little effect, he escaped from the highest security jails and his constant taunting of the police was an insult to the authorities , and on November 2nd, 1979, as Mesrine and his girlfriend were driving through Paris, leaving the city via the wide boulevard of Porte de Clignancourt, a van pulled up in front of their vehicle. A tarpaulin was pulled up and Mesrine had a few seconds to take heed of a row of guns aimed directly at him before he was killed in a hail of bullets.
The above account is a mixture of Mesrine's biography and the film itself. They are, however, virtually indistinguishable because the film is a faithful reproduction of Mesrine's life and contains far more than is detailed above - for instance, I have omitted Mesrine's penchant for disguises and never captured the pace and gripping scenes within the film itself. Although La Haine brought Vincent Cassels to the attention a French audience and also an American one which saw him go to Hollywood it was as Mesrine that the actor made his reputation and the film remains his finest work to date.
There is one final thing that Mesrine had in common with John Dillinger and it is the fact that both men were so difficult to capture that the authorities had decided to relinquish any attempt to arrest them and their deaths could only be described as assassinations; Bonnie and Clyde were also killed in such a manner.
While John Dillinger was for a long time regarded with a rosy glow of fondness in the American mid-west where he retained the legend of a Robin Hood among the largely unsophisticated farming communities, today he is fast disappearing from the consciousness of an American youth culture preoccupied with social media. However, the opposite is the case in France where Mesrine has become a cult figure, adopted as the patron saint of rebellion by young people of every hue; Mesrine now occupies a place in the French cultural pantheon, joining Edith Piaf, Zinedine Zidane, Bardot, Sartre and all the other French icons - for many years he was actually voted the most popular man in France. Tourists in the cities of Paris, Lyon and Marseille can often be puzzled by French youths sporting T-shirts with Mesrine pointing a pistol and the words "Profession Ennemi Public - Mesrine, pour toujours et pour jamais" (Profession Public Enemy - Mesrine, forever and always) and graffiti proclaiming "Mesrine - -pas mort " (Mesrine is not dead) in the manner of certain Elvis fans. French rappers in particular have taken Mesrine to their hearts writing highly inflammatory song lines and deifying their idol as the French version of Scarface or Che Guevara.
Often sadistic and cruel and a killer without a conscience, Mesrine was a dangerous man to be around, but there's no denying his daredevil exploits and devil-may-care lifestyle which go to make up a roller-coaster ride of a film which would be unbelievable if not for the fact that it is all true.