A lovesick cop with a sordid notion of romance harasses the object of his affections in “Chameleon.” In his first feature, co-scripter/helmer Benoit Cohen takes an honest stab at making a contempo Gallic film noir, but with mixed results.
Although it’s awash in lugubrious moods, desolate industrial settings and a certain deadpan humor, “Chameleon” lacks the satisfying punch of immoral people following a discernible outlaw code. Scrappy pic is from a disconnected school in which guns are brandished and blows are delivered with only the mildest motivation, so viewers’ sympathies rarely are evoked one way or the other. The back story moves to the front in smallish increments.
A promising pre-credits sequence shows a car snaking down a deserted country road. A man emerges and slides under the chassis to repair a flat tire. An otherwise unseen character wearing orange sneakers abruptly removes the jack, leaving more than the tire flat. The same scene will take on darker meaning when it returns at film’s end.
Body of pic concerns the put-upon perambulations of Lea (Chiara Mastroianni), a young barmaid with a questionable past, living with much older American painter and ex-con Francis (Seymour Cassel). One night, Lea shoots a man who’s been stalking her, only to be improbably rescued by Luc and Jean (Antoine Chappey and co-scripter Alban Guitteny), two men who deliver papers to newsstands around Paris.
Lea confides in Moskowitz (Jackie Berroyer), a 50-ish cop who seems to have no other duties apart from pining for Lea and drinking liquor in colorful delis, restaurants and cafes. Lea’s life as a murderess with a clear conscience grows increasingly complicated and threatened as she takes up with Luc while living with Francis and trying to steer clear of Mosky.
In the central role, Mastroianni holds the screen and is never less than fun to watch. Berroyer makes his pivotal, creepy part as convincing as possible. Supporting thesps have been intelligently cast.
Cassel and fellow indie icon Eddie Bunker (as Francis’ recently deported ex-con buddy Sid) will pass as the height of gruff Stateside authenticity for non-U.S. auds, but in dialogue and demeanor their perfs never rise above slightly strained cliche.
Lensing favors close-ups and props favor alcoholic beverages. Score leans toward ambient music in public places.