Mesrine: L’ennemi Public No1 (2008)

*CAUTION! For here be spoilers and shit*

Finally took in the second part of Jean-François Richet’s Mesrine double header last night, and before even going onto the film itself, I have to go straight to Vincent Cassel, again. The man is a fucking acting genius. Putting on over forty pounds to play a Mesrine grown fat on high living, the filming for both features was apparently done in reverse order so Cassel could lose the weight and get back to his svelte self for part one. He can make you love him, he can make you hate him. He can charm you, and make you laugh; then scare the fucking shit out of you. I can’t find fault with him here, and when all his co-stars seem to do nothing but fall over themselves to pile on the praise, I feel it’s time for some highly justified indulgence where the Cassel back catalogue is concerned…but until then, back to Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One.

Starting with the aftermath of his death, and the triumph of the man we will see revealed as Jacques Mesrine’s main adversary, it’s straight in and off running through a series of flashbacks and revelations of what the man now dubbed “Le Grand” has been up to recently. It seems like a hurried affair, and again we are treated to quick glimpses and overviews of Mesrine’s cohorts, but nothing more. Like in part one, they’re present to move the story forward; providing clues to how Jacques thinks and acts as his star ascends.

Tracked down and apprehended by Olivier Gourmet’s Broussard, Mesrine greets his arresting officer with champagne and asks for photos. There are many slightly comic episodes similar to this throughout the film showing an increasingly cocksure Cassel courting press attention, for example posing non-stop with a gun during an interview. Later, on learning his arrest was pushed off the front page by General Pinochet, Mesrine throws a strop and begins his autobiography. On publication, Richet’s version of the master criminal hints at the white lies and embellishments contained within. Jacques knows his public, and what they want, so feeds it to them and revels in his celebrity status.

Mesrine also now sees himself as a revolutionary. Fighting for what? You may ask, but even he doesn’t know the answer – just needs an excuse to justify his actions. Jacques hooks up with an Algerian known as the Ghost or the Invisible Man, can’t remember which but I’ll be sure to eventually edit this after a re-watch, and you feel it’s his way of trying to latch onto some kind of backing, but ultimately, at heart Jacques is shown as being more about the fancy lifestyle and fame than politics or just causes.

With his image plastered all over France, there’s an opportunity for the man of a thousand faces to live up to his name. I know the disguises aren’t meant to be humorous, but bloody hell did some of them make me laugh. Full nut-hair wig? Of course I’m gonna be pissing myself. The real Mesrine had the balls to carry off the most daring of plans and escapes via the medium of fancy dress, and you have to admire that.
I know I do.

Some periods of the film seem drawn out and a little overlong, but when it works, Richet hits the right notes. Escape sequences being the strong point, slick scenes with Mesrine and his lover Sylvie, the tension and impending doom during the encounter with that ill-fated journalist, and above all the attention to detail as we reach the final minutes of Jacques Mesrine’s life.

I felt that L’ennemi Public No1 was almost like a reversal of L’instinct Du Mort for me. In the first part, I liked Mesrine, but was brought back to reality by witnessing cold-blooded murder in the woods.
Part two is a different ride for me altogether. Opposite way round.
Jacques Mesrine is far less likeable in this outing, in fact he comes across as a bit of prick at times. Too concerned with his own mythology, ignoring the truths dished out by others, particularly partner in crime Besse, played as jumpy and suspicious by Mathieu Amalric – perfect foil to the over confident “big man.” The incident with the journalist who called Jacques a ‘dishonourable crook’ doesn’t help his case. Mesrine takes the poor bastard to a cave in the countryside, terrorizing and torturing him as revenge. Left for dead, but not before Jacques has taken photos to send to the papers. Nice.

So nearing the end of part two, I don’t particularly like Jacques Mesrine as much as I did in the first outing, but the turning point for me is his execution in broad daylight. No warning, no arrest. It’s pretty much mobile firing squad. I don’t know much about the politics of France in the seventies, but the death of Mesrine caused public outcry over the police’s handling of the situation. Mesrine had gone outwith their control, so rather than attempt to bring him in once more, his shooting was ordered. Investigations have brought no explanation as to why, and it all seems a little suspect.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I’d like to have seen more of Broussard, or ’chin-beard’ as Mesrine calls him. He appears to respect Mesrine early in the film, but later shows no emotion on being part of his slaughter. There’s a nice touch in Broussard covering Mesrine’s face from the photographers, but no clue as to who gave his orders. But then this all adds to the sense of conspiracy surrounding his end.

Over both parts, Jean-François Richet doesn’t go into the rhyme and reason of why Mesrine does what he does, nor does he go into why the police and the authorities do what they do. He presents the events as told by others and held in the public record. Again, it’s a case of making your own decision.
So maybe Jacques Mesrine did do some pretty shitty things, but no one deserves a death like that. As an ending in real life, it’s fucked up and inhuman, and I say the same for the fictional portrayal.

He’s played a blinder, that Richet. Stylish to the last, and I look forward to seeing more of his stuff in the future.

Killer, Robber, Master of Disguise: Article from The Observer detailing a brief outline of the shady dealings surrounding Mesrine’s demise.

Blog Post on Part One here.

~ by Mondo Ghosto on 08/02/2010.

2 Responses to “Mesrine: L’ennemi Public No1 (2008)”

  1. Here’s the bizarre thing; for as much as I felt the second film slightly overcooked the Mesrin goose, I came away feeling we didn’t get the whole story. Four hours, two films, felt too much, too little….

    Was the intention to portray him more myth than man? Was that why, for example, areas like the family angle were so diluted, and the robberies beefed up and bloated like the fat man Mesrin went on to become?

    Bastard son? Shit-heel father? The film seemed to offer little road to redemption, yet Public Enemy No1 somehow holds a place in French hearts, despite being bathed in a light as dark and seedy as the underworld he frequents.

    His death is hellish, an appalling example of French “justice”. Surely there’s more behind Jacques’ place in the public’s hearts than their sympathy towards his off-ing?

    Quite how he pulled that bird despite having the Terry Nutkins hairdo is nothing less than miraculous, though. Fit as hell, she was. Wet dream for a lady-lover like you, mondoghosto. Lezzie…

  2. Good points raised as always, Monsieur Daggers.

    It does feel as though a lot of the Mesrine story is glossed over like a cracked and peeling shed door, left out like a dog who has pissed all over your new carpet. Not specifically YOUR carpet, Benzine, but you get the jist.

    I feel the need to find out more where the real Mesrine is concerned, and I’m sure by now there’ll be summat available in translation, seen as the internet has failed my quest for information. My thirst for this Frenchman has yet to be sated, and as you say, to work out how he pulled a number like that with the monk-barnet would be good.

    She didn’t escape my eyes Benzine, you can be sure of that.

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