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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dobermann - 1997

Well, it appears my plans to watch lengthy arthouse/international films didn't exactly work this week. Instead I started of the week with a film that involves a man literally wiping his arse with a copy of Les Cahiers Du Cinema, it's pretty hard to get less arthouse than that.

This has just become one of my favourite posters ever!

This is a fine example of the Cinema Du Look style of film making, a French movement that was born in the late 80's, early 90's with the films of such directors as Luc Besson, although one of the earlier examples of the genre would be Diva - 1980.
This new style of film making abandoned the traditions established in the late 50's by an elite group of directors, many of whom had written for Les Cahiers.

Many people seem to have preconceptions about French Cinema, or European Cinema in general. Thinking it's made up of black and white drama about repressed middle aged women or something along those lines.
But this new style of filmmaking draws most of it's inspiration from American Action Cinema, it is stylish, violent, vulgar and full of one-liners.

The main reason I saw this film was for Vincent Cassel's performance, I'm not much of a fan of the Cinema du Look in general and have had no prior experience of Jan Kounen's films.
Dobermann is based of the crime novels (a series of 19 books) of the same name written by Joel Houssin.

Bellucci as Nat
Dobermann tells the story of a young criminal and his gang, which includes his deaf girlfriend Nat, they rob banks and kill policemen in a way that can be best described as anarchic. After one particularly violent robbery (which involves an armed grenade going off in a man's motorbike helmet), the ruthless and borderline psychotic police officer named Christini is set upon them. The resulting struggle will cost the lives of many on both sides, cops and robbers, and will end in a very violent manner.
The film definitely leaves room for a sequel but none was ever made, and I don't find myself saying this often, but that's rather a shame. I would have liked to see a sequel or two to this film, as long as they kept the same cast.

I was pretty disapointed with Cassel's performance, he wasn't in the film enough and while he was his usual charismatic self his character was still far to enigmatic and aloof to be interesting, thankfully the rest of the cast make up for this very well.

One of the best aspects of the film is the cast, which as well as including Cassel in the title role also stars Monica Bellucci (Cassel's real life wife), Romain Duris (of De Battre Mon Coeur S'Est Arreté fame) and Tcheky Karyo.
All actors give wonderfully over the top performances, mainly because all the characters are basically larger than life stereotypes, Dobermann is the cool and charismatic antihero, Karyo is the cop with virtually no redeeming features and seems to be evil personified at times. 
This portrayal of sympathetic robbers and evil policemen is an interesting one I thought, for although corrupt cops have long featured in film, French cinema was more often than not sympathetic towards them, even when the villains were the focus of the film. Good examples of this would be Melville's films such as Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge which focus of the criminals and forms them into antihero's of sorts, but never portrays the police as particularly villainous, only as honest men doing their jobs. Naturally the viewer ends up rooting for the criminals but the police are not the object of such hatred as they became in some of these later films.
Karyo as Christini
Karyo definitely succeeded in making one of the most nasty psychotic cops ever to be put on screen. My only experience with his work previously had been in Crying Freeman, where he was dubbed in a fashion that nearly ruined the film for me.

The characters were ridiculous caricatures that seemed to have been lifted directly from an American comic book or B-movie. They were completely one sided, no motivations were really given for the crimes, they just seemed to enjoy it, furthermore no motivations are given for Karyo's characters' sudden hatred of Dobermann later on in the film even though he seemed scornful and dismissive of him at first. But all this isn't really the point, the characters are one dimensional and unexplained solely because the director made no effort in that direction.
All the thought behind this film was put into the style, and in that regard the film succeeds admirably for this is an incredibly stylish film made on a relatively small budget, the film was made for about 33 million Francs which is equivalent to about 5 million Euro's, yet the explosions were impressive, the special effects were great and the film as a whole felt like it had been made on more than double the actual budget.
The directing was extremely fast paced and kinetic, full of stylish movements, rapid zooms to close ups and fast editing. It can get a bit tiring at times, for the use of close ups is far to excessive , but as a whole I thought it was well made if a bit messy in its angles and editing it was still infinitely better than other more recent action films. The soundtrack and all the other technical elements were similarly fast paced and stylish, well suited to the film but not exactly what I prefer.
This stylishness is also created around the characters, they are constantly striking ridiculous yet amusing poses, often while holding big guns:
The performances themselves were better than one might expect, of course they are overly flamboyant but it works well in the context of this film. Subtle and restrained performances would be extremely out of place in a film which opens with a baby Dobermann receiving a .357 Magnum for his christening present. Everything about this film is over the top, yet it doesn't feel like a parody. Unless it's a parody of itself that is.
Obviously much of the film was humorous, in a very dark way, and was seeking to subvert people views of French film making by showing that French directors can make a film so superficial, so full of explosions and grisly deaths, big guns, priests with guns, fast cars, dirty cops, cliched one-liners etc. that it would put any US film to shame.

Strangely enough, this may sound very much like a Hollywood film, but I can assure you that there is something about it that makes it far better than any of those films could be. It might be the fact that this film is far more daring and controversial in it's subject matter and doesn't care, in fact it even presents it in an extremely stylish way.
I don't think such instances of grisly violence (the villains death is one of the nastiest I've ever seen), transvestitism (a major plot point in the film), nihilism (there are basically no characters in the film that could be called "good", and furthermore, the majority of the criminals escape unharmed), vulgarity (I don't know what the subtitles would be like, but this is still one of the rudest films I've ever heard).  

But despite the strange and muddled nature of this film it is still very enjoyable, some great action sequences, colourful characters that do tend to get annoying at times but still have the advantage of being very "different" and a very dark sense of humour.
I wouldn't recommend it to those easily offended or to those looking for something more highbrow, but if your looking for something sick and slightly twisted, stylishly and entertaining with charismatic performances yet shies away from the Hollywood formula's then this is a perfect film for you.

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