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November 15, 2012


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Olivier Chateau - 2008
Synapse Films Region 0 DVD

Also known as I Want to be a Gangster, Olivier Chateau's debut feature should be mandatory viewing for any would-be filmmakers. Not that the film is in the same critical league as, say, Citizen Kane, but more fundamentally, Chateau demonstrates what you can do with extremely limited financial resources, and a little bit of imagination. Also, some kudos to the gang at Synapse Films for providing a U.S. DVD release outside their usual scope.

Essentially, a small time hood, Jack, goofs up, holding on to a big bag of drugs that belongs to gangster with serious muscle. Jack thinks he's got it made when he works his way into the gang, only to have things get worse when the nephew of the top boss, the kind of guy who looks like a young banker, accidentally shoots himself under Jack's watch. As punishment, Jack is kidnapped and chained to a tree, left to die, in a large, remote forest. As it turns out, Jack has very strong survival instincts.

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Chateau ratchets the tension at the very beginning. Three guys are laying cash on the table, while a gun is handed between them. What we see is a variation of Russian roulette, only with the gun aiming at the knee. It's a game of verve and bluff, and even if we don't see what happens to one foolish player, the pain is easy to imagine.

Jack talks about wanting to be a gangster from watching movies. His punishment of being chained to the tree destroys any lingering romantic notions. Even before then is the understanding of strict rules and hierarchies, especially after his interview with the top gangster. Chateau cast Jean-Pierre Kalfon as the criminal boss, giving his film a tangential nouvelle vague connection. In Kalfon's debut film, Claude Lelouch's Une Fille et des Fusils from 1964, he played a novice criminal.

The DVD includes one of Chateau's early shorts, Homer, about an uncaged rabbit doing maximum damage to one apartment. The "Making of" extra is partially devoted to Chateau discussing making a movie on a budget of 7000 Euros, as well as some of the casting decisions. One of the top thugs is played by Jacques Frantz, who in addition to his continued supporting work in French films, also is the dubbing voice for Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte. Chateau also discusses his use of desaturated color, creating a not quite black and white look. Robert Rodriguez is mentioned for his debut, El Mariachi, a tiny budget debut feature. While Chateau's film does not have stylized action scenes, there are moments given to the kind of disorientation found in the so-called experimental films from the Sixties.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 15, 2012 08:45 AM