Dir: Alain Corneau. France 2007. 148 mins.
Second Wind is an ultra-stylised, garishly-tinted retro genre exercise that rambles on for two and a half hours without ever answering the question of why we need another version of Jose Giovanni's gritty novel about honour among thieves, which was inspired by the late author's own criminal career and stint in jail.
Jean Pierre Melville's classy 1966 adaptation has lost none of its cool noir poetry over the years, whereas Corneau's 2007 attempt strives for attitude so earnestly it becomes the genre equivalent of Bob Dylan's Mr Jones, seeing something is happening but not quite knowing what it is - or how best to express it.
This said, Second Wind gusts along in mostly watchable fashion, given some much-needed puff by Daniel Auteuil, whose performance as Gu, an ageing gangster talked into doing one last heist, carries much of the film - in tandem with Michel Blanc's tasty turn as his fastidious nemesis, police inspector Blot.
Monica Bellucci as Gu's love interest Manouche looks good with a trashy
blonde dyejob a la Barbarella, but all she's required to do is stand round looking tres fragile (so much so that you wonder how she ever
got to run a nightclub).
The locally top-drawer cast (which includes Eric Cantona as Gu's loyal Corsican sidekick) will go some way towards persuading French audiences to stump up the readies, at least in the first couple of weeks after the film's 24 October release, but Second Wind is likely to run out of steam fairly quickly.
Elsewhere, outside of a few other European territories (such as Italy, where Bellucci has purchase), this is going to be a hard sell - its cause not helped by a decidely mixed reception at Toronto, where the film premiered before moving into a competition berth in Rome.
Corneau brings the setting of Giovanni's 1958 novel forward by a couple of years, presumably in order to catch the dawn of the sixties in costumes and hairstyles.
Opening with Gu's escape from prison, we soon cut to Manouche's nightclub in Paris, a day-glo den where a shooting takes place - though the clashing colours are more violent than the choreographed, deliberately unreal attack.
Inspector Blot, a short, bespectacled police inspector with a world-weary manner and sardonic turn of phrase, turns up and begins the first of a serious of rather static expositions that fill us in on the web of gang allegiances and rivalries which connect Gu, Alban, Jo Ricci (an enjoyably creepy Gilbert Melki) and his brother Venture (Daniel Duval).
At first the film's laconic pacing and episodic structure (reminiscent of another recent period noir outing, Romanzo Criminale) feels refreshing, but things soon start to drag.
The rambling script doesn't do enough to focus our attention on what is
presumably its main premise - that things have changed since Gu was last on the outside, and the lines between cops and robbers are increasingly blurred.
Instead Corneau tries to push the film into elegaic mode before it has earned the right: pretty much everything Gu says sounds like a third-act speech, loaded with gangster existentialism (it's a mark of Auteuil's bravura that we stay with him even when he sounds like he's quoting Sartre).
In other words, the film tries to sell us a pre-packaged Chandler-style lyricism, rather than create it the hard way out of character and plot.
And for all its wacko colour tricks, Second Wind never really finds a unified look. Nightclub scenes that appear to be striving for a heightened Technicolor effect alternate with desaturated exterior palettes (mostly in the second part, set around Marseilles) and some almost monochrome chiaroscuro passages.
It feels like a kid's got his hands on the digital paintbox and is having fun trying out the various effects. The stern orchestral soundtrack, composed by Bruno Coulais and played by the Czech Philharmonic,
confers a certain solemnity to the proceedings - but it isn't enough
to persuade us that this genre doodle is a momentous crime epic.
Written and directed by
based on the novel by Jose Giovanni
TF1 Films Production
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