TIFF Report: Banlieue 13
Um. What everyone else said...
There are obvious advantages to being under the tutelage of Luc Besson. You learn from one of the great contemporary action figures of European cinema. You take your licks and one day, one day, you take what you have learned, spread your wings and you leave the nest and take the action cinema world on by yourself. The most recent 'Spawn of Besson' to find their own wings and start their own projects, Pierre Morel's Banlieue 13 may be described as 'recess for grown-ups'. In between lessons on human equality and freedom you have 15 minutes to stretch, jump around on the jungle gym and kick the tar out of a couple of baddies.
It has already been said many times by many people that the story of Banlieue 13 smacks of Escape From New York and the like so I am not going to waste your time with that. It is an action movie after all. However, you may be surprised that there is as much exposition as there is.
Let's talk about the action, because hell, that's why you're going to watch it! Stemming from a rich family history in gymnastics David Belle turned that experience on its head and in the past five years created a free flowing extreme sport called Parkour. As Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes put it, something to the effect of "Get from A to B as quickly and smoothly as you can&". The stuff that he and Raffaili pull off in B13 is absolutely stunning! The introductory sequences for Belle and Raffaeli are incredible yet very distinct in style and reflective of their characters. It is not until the very final bout that you see Belle pull any real punches and you know Raefaeli is a hard ass from the get-go. Belle is smooth while Rafaeli is calculated. Belle dances while Rafaeli charges. But the proverbial Bull runs into the Fine China store in the final sequence and its HARD.
As a debut film for Morel B13 makes for an impressive one. But he has fallen victim to the curse of the editing room and there were far too many cuts in the action sequences. Which is a shame since out of Parkour and its practice you have the ability to create astonishing visuals. You go to either actors' personal site and you will see things that will blow you mind. Some of those earlier demo reels are used as templates for sequences in B13. However, Morel seemed intent on cutting and editing to make them, I can only guess, more exciting.
This may be unfair to say but I can fully understand if no one thought B13 would play outside of France. Parkour started there. There has been more than enough coverage of the sport on its native soil so perhaps the idea of showing full sequences uncut may have seemed boring. "Yes, yes. We've seen all this before [Or Oui, oui] and its not very exciting the second or third time around'.
I think though that what the editing of the action sequences does do though, and this is to its disadvantage, is create a way out for the viewer to dismiss the authenticity of the stunt. It creates 'wires' by which I mean it gives the viewer permission to doubt that the stunt is 'authentic' and there must have been some trickery to make it look so good. Too many camera angles means too many takes to make it right. And faster editing does not make for more exciting action.
But regardless of how I feel about the action B13 still stands out as an impressive work of martial arts/action film making in the European market. It along with Danny the Dog have begun to show the rest of the world that Europe has some chops when it comes to action film and strength in martial arts is not just limited to the Asian continants. The movie gives enough thrills and spills to astonish and delight. The humour injected into Besson's script is subtle and could have easily been overblown. Belle and Raffaili are solid in there roles as focused as they are. The supporting cast and roles are great as well. Tony D'Amario and Bibi Naceri are excellent villians. And yes, I am in love with Dany Verissimo and will be until some other attractive actress may come along.
Now, if we can only learn to trust our action sequences and our action choreogrpher's ability [by the way Raffaili was the AC for B13 - bang up job monsieur!] to create mind blowing stunts and leave them to stand on their own merits instead of editing them to make them more exciting then I will be a happy camper and a squealer of delight.