1 September 2016 | Red-Barracuda
One of the high points of the cinéma du look movement
I remember back in the 90's I had the iconic Nikita poster, which had a very leggy Anne Parillaud kitted out in a little tight black dress while cocking a huge hand gun. It was one of the definitive movie posters of its day and went some way in adding to the film's overall reputation as something cool that had to be seen. Over the years Nikita has become less well remembered but it definitely remains one of the high points of the French cinéma du look movement. It follows the story of a violent drug addicted young woman, who is imprisoned for killing a police officer during an armed robbery. Recognising her skills as useful, a secret government agency fakes her death and gives her the opportunity to be reborn in a new life as a professional killer.
Directed by Luc Besson, this is a fairly typical example of his work at its best where we have an action-thriller which is elevated by an ultra-stylish presentation. It has a very glossy veneer to it, with some chic fashions and ornate locations but in amongst that it does have some grit. The central character played by Parillaud really exemplifies this, where she is moulded into a sophisticated killer but who underneath is a feral street fighter. Parillaud definitely covers a lot of ground here in a strong performance. She isn't afraid to play the character very unglamorous and annoying where required - the slinky creature on the poster is only part of the deal here! The transformation of this character is overseen by an enigmatic agent called Bob who develops feelings for his charge while reconfiguring her. It's a story-line which has definite parallels to Pygmalion. In fact, much of Nikita isn't really in thriller territory at all. Much focus is made of the relationship Nikita embarks on in the latter half of the film with a shop assistant played by Jean-Hugues Anglade, who in a neat role reversal plays a part which is typically played by women in most films of these kinds. Anglade is the good natured partner who is Nikita's anchor on reality while she embarks on her secret and deadly missions. One particularly exemplary example of this occurs in a scene in Venice where she assassinates a designated victim while having a conversation with Anglade through a bathroom door. It's scenes like this one and others where the central character embarks on her missions where the film usually peaks for me. In one of these latter sequences we are introduced to the sinister character of 'The Cleaner' in a role played by Jean Reno which was so striking that Besson based one of his next films around this idea, namely Leon (1994).
I think Nikita may be the best film that Besson ever made. The combination of an interesting central character, good concept and stylised direction add up to an action-thriller of significant pedigree. It was remade in America with Bridget Fonda in the lead role under the title of Point of No Return (1993), a film which many people seem to hate but which I actually thought was a very good alternative. So my advice would be, watch both and decide for yourself.