9 July 2000 | DeeNine-2
Accept no substitutes
This, the French La Femme Nikita, directed by Luc Besson, is one of the strangest, most bizarre, yet psychologically truest movies ever made. The story on the surface is absurd and something you'd expect from a grade 'B' international intrigue thriller. Anne Parillaud plays Nikita, a bitter, drug-dependent, unsocialized child of the streets who is faster than a kung fu fighter and packs more punch than a Mike Tyson bite. She's killed some people and is given a choice between death and becoming an assassin for the French government.
This premise should lead to the usual action/adventure yarn, with lots of fists flying, guns going off, people jumping off of buildings, roaring through the streets in souped up vehicles, spraying bullets, etc., as blood flows and bones shatter. And something like that does happen. However there is a second level in which Nitika becomes the embodiment of something beyond an action adventure heroine. She is coerced and managed by society. Her individuality is beaten out of her so that she can be molded into what the society demands. She comes out of her 'training' with her individuality compromised, her free and natural spirit cowed, but undefeated and alive, and she sets out to do what she has been taught to do. And then she falls in love. And she notices, somewhere along the way, amid the murder and the mayhem, that there is something better than and more important than, and closer to her soul in this world than killing and being killed. She finds that she prefers love to hate, tenderness to brutality. She sees herself and who she is for the first time, but it is too late. She cannot escape. Or can she?
Parillaud brings a wild animal persona tinged with beauty and unself-conscious grace to the role of Nikita. Marc Duret plays Rico, the tender man she loves, and Tchéky Karyo is her mentor, Bob, whom she also loves. Jeanne Moreau, the legend, has a small part as Amande, who teaches Nikita lipstick application and how to be attractive.
Now compare this to the US remake called Point of No Return (1993), starring Bridget Fonda. (Please, do not even consider the vapid TV Nikita.) What's the difference? Well, Fonda's flashier, I suppose, but nowhere is there anything like the psychological depth and raw animal magnetism found in the original. The Fonda vehicle is simply a one-dimensional action flick stylishly done in a predictable manner. Besson's Nikita is a work of art that explores the human predicament and even suggests something close to salvation.
As always with a French film, get the subtitled version. The dubbing is always atrocious, and anyway there's really not that much dialogue.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)