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Schroeder shows criminal intent

Cassel takes role as notorious French bank robber

Barbet Schroeder is returning to France to helm the UGC-financed “The Death Instinct” and “The Public Enemy,” a $40 million-$45 million two-parter based on the true story of Jacques Mesrine, France’s public enemy No. 1 during the 1970s.

Vincent Cassel will play Mesrine in the project, produced by Thomas Langmann’s company La Petite Reine and co-produced by UGC Images.

Alain Delon will make a guest appearance as Mesrine’s criminal mentor. Sandrine Bonnaire and Ludivine Saigner play two of the women in Mesrine’s life.

Gerard Lanvin and Benoit Magimel are in advanced negotiations for roles in the film. The screenplay was written by Guillaume Laurant (“Amelie”).

UGC Intl. is handling all rights.

The Mesrine legend lives on in France, more than 20 years after he was gunned down by police on the edge of Paris.

A thorn in the side of law enforcement for nearly two decades, Mesrine robbed banks (sometimes two a day), staged high-profile and lucrative kidnappings and escaped from prison at least twice. On one occasion he broke out of a courtroom by taking the judge hostage. He is said to have killed 39 people.

Schroeder has wanted to bring Mesrine’s life to the bigscreen for years. He came close nearly 20 years ago in a project with Jean-Pierre Rassam — Thomas Langmann’s uncle — that never got off the ground.

The two films, which will shoot simultaneously starting early next year, will be based on material from two acclaimed autobiographical books that Mesrine penned.

“Mesrine lived his life as though he always intended it to be a movie,” Schroeder said. “He was a very talented man in many ways, someone who just took the wrong path.”