Hot Damme!

3 01 2009


Mabrouk El Mechri—remember that name.  His JCVD is more than an arch and skillful parody of action flicks, more than a comment on disposable culture, more than a reveal of the international police/justice system, and more than an escapade with bizarre, intoxicating computerized color techniques:  it is a heartfelt and urgent portrait of an aging and personable star, burdened by celebrity, unhappy in marriage, agonized over the disaffection of his teenage daughter, and now trapped by mindless thugs in a Belgian heist that has been catapulted into worldwide media coverage so that he loses his agent, his lawyer, his reputation, even, to some horrible degree, his identity.  None of this is what’s best about this film, however.  El Mechri has an absolutely sure sense of how scenes must play for maximum comic, dramatic, and musical effect, and so there is not one shot, not one breath, that lasts too long or carried in the wrong direction.  As to whether Monsieur Jean-Claude Van Damme can act:  you’d better believe it!  The film has violence, but because the filmmaker insists that it be real, because this film is about the boundary between fiction and the everyday, it is neither stretched nor exaggerated nor rained upon us.  At one point, our hero is struck in the head with the butt of a pistol, and he feels the pain for the rest of the film, as do we.  Much of what is being critiqued here is the blasé attitude we have learned to bring to screen violence:  here the shocks are palpable, and therefore they do not need to be larger than life.




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