Past weekend, Le Fidèle, whose English title’s The Racer and the Jailbird, had its avant première in Brussels, which I was able to attend. Before the movie started, the director and main cast introduced themselves and answered some questions. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to ask those questions ourselves.
At seven thirty the cast and crew of Le Fidèle arrived in Brussels, ready to walk on the red carpet, to stop in front of an enormous poster of the film, so that the press and eager fans could take pictures. When pictures were taken and people satisfied, we entered movie room 13, where everyone went to sit on their reserved seat, to then listen as Michaël Roskam, Matthias Schoenaerts and Adèle Exarchopoulos answered some questions asked by the host.
Roskam, the director of this neo-noir love tale about a robber and a racer who fall in love, told us why he decided to have the movie take place in Brussels. “The stories that have inspired me [to make the film] mostly took place in Brussels and it’s also a story of Brussels,” he said. “It’s important to me that there isn’t only realism in the language, but also in the location.” The interviewer also tried to ask him something about the character’s in his movies. He said that he’s mostly inspired by people who’ve really walked this earth, “the gangsters out of the 80’ and 90’ and their infamous love lives”.
When that brief interview with Roskam ended, the interviewer quickly moved over to Adèle, who was standing right next to Roskam. Pardon me for the bad translation in the following text, but French isn’t my strongest suit. The interviewer asked her why she decided to join the film, to which she said: “I was already aware of the director, I knew of his filmography and I was passionate about his work.” She then continued to say that it’s mostly the love story between the two main characters in the film that fascinated her the most. Out of the things going on in the film, their love dominates, she told the interviewer, and that interested her very much.
After that one-question-interview, it was Mathias Schoenaerts’s turn to answer a question. His designated question was as followed: Was it a long process to create Le Fidèle? “The Idea was born during the filming days of Bullhead” he started, “So that’d be about six or seven years ago. From that point on it was a continuous exchange of ideas [between me and Michaël Roskam]. Michaël writes it, so there are periods of time where he isolates himself for about six months, after which we exchange some more ideas and so on and forth. It’s a process that lasts for a couple of years. At a certain point the screenplay is finished, and then there are grants and then there’s a premiere in Brussels!”
“And then there’s a premiere in Brussels”, the interviewer repeated to finish their conversation, after which the lights slowly dimmed down and the movie projector started to roll.
As the light re-entered the movie theater I sat there left unsatisfied. I had relatively high expectations of this film; Roskam was directing, Schoenaerts was acting and it was our official submission to the Oscars. Roskam had previously directed another film that was nominated for an Oscar, namely Bullhead, also starring Matthias Schoenaerts. In 2014 he made The Drop starring Tom Hardy, a film that I thoroughly enjoyed. As both films were neo-noir thrillers, I was anticipating the same level of brilliance in this neo-noir romance, unfortunately, this wasn’t a reality. While the film is mostly a romance, the thrills of a neo-noir film were also quite apparent in this film, mostly in the three big action scenes of the film. You had the first heist sequence, which was pretty decent and brought some needed change of pace, the second action scene was also a heist; this time, however, it was truly brilliant. Roskam slowly builds up the tension until the explosive action breaks loose as Schoenaerts character exits his car to rob an armored vehicle together with his comrades. The scene was shot in one take and executed brilliantly. The choreography was fantastic and so was the pacing. It being shot in one take also gave a very nice flow to the scene. The overall set piece was quit, amazing to say the least and incredibly well set-up.
The third major action scene was of lesser quality, bad even. It was shot terribly and was constantly under lit. There were cuts every split-second and that in combination with very dark lighting and a shaking camera, wasn’t really the perfect cocktail for a brilliant action sequence, which is a shame since it was the final action scene to a relatively well shot film. The overall cinematography was at quite a lot of moments worthy of the word “fantastic”, and then you have the mess that the final action scene was. Other shots than the finale were all very well-lit, composed and edited, so I don’t really know how the finale came to be as it was. I particularly liked how they shot the driving sequences scattered throughout the movie, they were simple, but effective and gorgeous to look at. There was also a notable use of silhouettes that often enough made for some excellent looking shots. It was no surprise that the film would be nice to look at, as the cinematographer, Nicolas Karakatsanis, had previously shot both The Drop and Bullhead together with Roskam.
Roskam also wasn’t really able to tell a coherent story. He was trying to blend together a whole bunch of different themes together; the film’s a drama, a romance, a thriller, a racing film, a neo-noir gangster flick while also turning into a revenge story: that’s quite a lot. It’s not that there were quite a lot of different genres in play that makes the film incoherent; it’s the fact that Roskam wasn’t able to balance them rightly, which was the cause of the incoherent story. At the core, the film’s quite simple: a robber meets a racer and they fall in love. Just the meat of the story isn’t that quality filled. The writing as a whole wasn’t the movies strongest suit. There were quite a lot of dumb lines of dialogue scattered throughout the film that dragged down the quality of the film quite a bit.
The acting, though, was actually brilliant and probably the best thing this film has to offer. Both Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos have proven in their filmography that they’re amazing actors and in this film, they’ve shown that again. At some moments Exarchopoulos’s performance even gave me chills. She really got her time to shine in one scene in particular, namely a scene where she has a phone call with Gino (Schoenaerts), where the camera’s only pointed at her face and we don’t get any cuts to Gino’s reaction to the things she’s saying; it’s just Exarchopoulos’s amazing acting that was able to carry the scene. Not to say that Schoenaerts falls into the shadow of Adèle’s amazing acting. Schoenaerts got his own scenes to shine, and when he was given the opportunity, he did shine as bright as he could. He was able to entirely inhabit the character of Gino, just like Exarchopoulos was able to do with Bibi, which was a pleasure to see on the big screen.
In the end, it was just an okay film. It’s definitely not the worst film I’ve seen this year, but it’s far from the greatest. I’m pretty sure the film won’t get nominated for best foreign film, as the tonal problem and weak dialogue really dragged the film’s quality severely down. That’s not to say that there weren’t any redeeming aspects to the film, the acting was fantastic and so was the majority of the action sequences. That’s why this film gets a C+.
Little Update: Sorry for the lack of uploads, but school has started again and it’s quite a busy period. I also don’t foresee it becoming much quieter in the coming weeks. I won’t be able to upload two articles a week, let alone upload weekly. It’ll probably be every once in a while, but it won’t be as frequent as it was before. I’m also working on my animation thesis (I’ve followed a stop motion class as a hobby for the past six years and this year I have to make a thesis), which is basically an animated short film made on my own that has to be finished by May next year. This is also why I haven’t been active on WordPress as a whole. I hope you understand that I have to lay my focus upon school projects and my short film rather than on this blog. So once again, sorry that there won’t be as many uploads as before.