Archive for July 13th, 2009

Can you pick out a moment that changed your cinema viewing for ever? I can. Nikita was my first subtitled film. At the time it came out it had been dismissed as style over substance but in 1991 I was in my local video shop and I saw the photograph on the box. Something struck me about the green tinged monochrome image of Anne Parillaud with a big gun.  I was so struck by the image a print of it found its way to my bedroom wall. Years later I still have it and it shares the wall in my hall with other movie stills.

nikita uk video

Anne ParillaudNikita (Anne Parillaud) is the only survivor of a group of heroin addicts after a shootout with the police in a pharmacy they are attempting to rob. In prison she is presented with the option of becoming a government assassin or be killed in a staged suicide. After a failed escape attempt she reluctantly accepts their offer. After seeing part of her training we get the best scene of the film. Her final test. On her birthday she is let out of the training facility for the first time. This is what happens:


(Sorry about the lack of English subtitles it was the only version I could find since the the youtube one I intended to use has been disabled)

Tcheky Karyonikita victor the cleanerThe assassination victims are kept at a distance and are somewhat one dimensional, for this reason there are no traditional heroes or villains, all the main characters play both roles. Nikita starts off seemingly beyond redemption but we quickly warm to her. Bob represents the government and is such expected to be the good guy but in many ways the government and the system are the true villains. The actions of Victor The Cleaner (Jean Reno) are ruthless but he is just a government pawn like Nikita.

betty blueAs I mentioned above the film was criticized on release for having style over substance. Although unfair on the substance front the film is clearly very stylish and has a look reminiscent of 80’s Hong Kong movies such as John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow or Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. Besson’s films have been attributed to the “Cinema du look” movement along with films like Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue. These films tend to concentrate on young attractive but alienated or disillusioned characters in late 80’s early 90’s France. The films all have a very slick and striking visual style. Although often used as a derogatory term the movement did have an influence on 90’s Hollywood films.

the assassinLeonAs well as a film I love in its own right it is also one I appreciate for the world it opened up to me with some of my all time favourite films being subtitled. It also inspired Besson to write Leon for Jean Reno when he realised the potential for the character of Victor to used more. A word of advice: always watch foreign language films in the original language with subtitles and not dubbed into English, they are so much better that way. And don’t watch The Assassin (called Point Of No Return in America) as an alternative to Nikita, it is a poor imitation.


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