Violence begets violence and pat homilies in crimer-cum-morality tale "Lady Jane," from earthy French helmer Robert Guediguian.

Violence begets violence and pat homilies in crimer-cum-morality tale “Lady Jane,” from earthy French helmer Robert Guediguian. After previous efforts “The Journey to Armenia” and “The Last Mitterand,” which took him onto a broader canvas, helmer returns to the gritty Marseilles milieu that informed much of his earlier work. Thriller aspect will likely alienate his fan base outside Gaul, and international crime buffs will find the yarn too convenient and unconvincing. Within France, however, combination of esteemed helmer and noirish flavor is likely to find wide acceptance on April 2008 release.

Pic begins with three masked figures passing out free fur coats in a Marseilles whorehouse while the soundtrack pumps rebelliously jaunty electronic-blues music. Story then jumps to shopkeeper Muriel (Ariane Ascaride) tending to a customer in a perfumerie whose moniker, Lady Jane, matches a cannabis-leafed tattoo on her wrist. Mid-sale, Muriel receives a distressing phone call in which, due to cell-phone technology, she can see that her teenage son is being held at gunpoint.

Upset but outwardly cool, Muriel gets together with her old pals, shipwright Francois (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and strip-club owner Rene (Gerard Meylan), who agree to help her raise the requested ransom.

Gradually, both Francois and Rene show evidence of a criminal past, and a flashback confirms the three middle-aged protags were the masked Robin Hoods in the film’s opening. Flashback climaxes with Muriel revealing her tattoo to their victim, who was obviously chosen to settle a score, before spitefully executing him.

Link between the killing and the kidnapping is not apparent at first, but when the exchange of Muriel’s son for the ransom goes startlingly awry, the connection becomes prematurely obvious. Earlier taut narrative becomes blatantly schematic, and pic morphs into a tut-tutting riposte to the sadistic (and more convincing) fatalism of Michael Haneke’s “Cache”. Matched with a ham-fisted resentment of modern technology, the lecturing tone underlines the suspicion that Guediguian’s film is too narrowly partisan in all its arguments.

Perfs by helmer’s regular ensemble players Ascaride, Darroussin and Meylan impress in their emotional scenes and their onscreen familiarity perfectly projects longtime camaraderie. However, only the crumple-faced Darroussin is successfully reborn an aging survivor from a Jean-Pierre Melville crimer.

For a director unaccustomed to thrillers, the action sequences are well helmed. Fuzzy lensing gives pic a semi-romanticized, somewhat amateurish hue. Soundtrack eclectically swings from blues to classical and contempo French pop, but is smartly placed. All other tech credits are pro.

Lady Jane

France

Production

An Agat Films & Cie, France 3 Cinema co-production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cinecinema, with the support of La Region Provence Alpes Cote D'Azur, in association with Le Centre National de la Cinematographie, Poste Image, Soficinema 3. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced, directed by Robert Guediguian. Screenplay, Jean-Louis Milesi, Guediguian.

Crew

Camera (color), Pierre Milon; editor, Bernard Sasia; production designer, Michel Vandestien; sound (Dolby), Laurent Lafran. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 12, 2008. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gerard Meylan, Yann Tregouet, Frederique Bonnal, Jacques Boudet.

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