28 July 2008 | dark_coffee
A meagre and flawed adaptation
There are tons of movies based on books. Some are good, some are fine, and some are bad. As someone who read most of Fred Vargas's novels, I was quite disappointed by this movie adaptation of "Pars vite et reviens tard". There are too many plot and character changes, but, most importantly, the movie fails to seize the spirit of the novel - which effectively turns it in a bland and unoriginal police thriller.
At its core, "Pars vite et reviens tard" (translated as "Have mercy on us all" in English) is a not-so-traditional police thriller in which we follow Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg as he tries to catch a mysterious murderer who makes it seem as if the plague kills his victims. The general storyline is followed in the movie, but most of the finer points have been modified; arguably to make the story more accessible to people who haven't read the book. Indeed, there are lots of details in the book and it would be impossible to include everything. Still, they made some very odd changes that somewhat disturbs the flow and character development.
In the same line of thought, the casting came in as a surprise. The much missed Michel Serrault delivers erudite Decambrais pretty well, but others are blatantly different (both in physical appearance and personality) than their book counterparts (Danglard, Adamsberg's sidekick, was particularly botched in my opinion: even calling him a foil is giving him too much credit). For the most part, I found the acting to be generally bland and uninspiring.
Of course, it's impossible for a movie to be made as a carbon copy of a book (and then, such a thing could turn out bad). Minor edits to the plot line and the look of the actors are things that can be forgiven, at least up to a certain point. What really kills the movie in my opinion is how it turns the unique style of Vargas's writing in a run-of-the-mill thriller. Before being about a police officer who runs after a bad guy, Vargas's novels are about the psychological depth of her characters, particularly Adamsberg. In the movie, Adamsberg is a bland cop whose distinguishing feature is his need of a woman at night to be able to make progress in the case.
Overall, "Pars vite et reviens tard" is a disappointing movie for those who read the book. For others, it could pass as a decent police thriller, although the average acting and flow issues make it less interesting. I would warn those people though not to judge Vargas's novels on this adaptation, as it would be a big mistake.