Monday, September 5, 2011

Movie – La Femme Nikita (1990)

La Femme Nikita was the first introduction to writer/director Luc Besson for most Americans.  And what an introduction it was.  This movie just exploded in a big way and many people found themselves watching a foreign action movie for the first time.  Besson would go on to an even greater accomplishment a few years later with Leon: The Professional.  [You can read my post on that here.] 

What set La Femme Nikita (and Leon) apart from other action movies of the time was the level of emotion that was invested in the characters.  These weren’t some indestructible killing machines or two dimensional good guys; these were real people put in extraordinary circumstances and you cared about what happened to them.  This is truly an action film for both men and women.

The movie stars Anne Parillaud (Map of the Human Heart) as Nikita.  When the movie opens she is a street punk involved in a deal gone bad.  She gets captured.  When she wakes up, a man (Tcheky Karyo – Bad Boys, Goldeneye) explains to her that she is now in the hands of the government.  He shows her a photo of a gravestone in a cemetery and tells her that to the rest of the world she is dead.  She is going to start a new life serving the government.  When she asks him what happens if she refuses he just points back to the photo of the cemetery.

Needless to say, things do not go smoothly at first.  This man is to be her sponsor to get her trained to be an assassin for the government.  She doesn’t like him much and even attacks him at one point.  An older woman (Jeanne Moreau) is brought in to teach Nikita, for lack of a better phrase, to be a woman.  She teaches her makeup and hair, and how to distract a man.  She teaches her “how to walk and to talk and to act like a regular lady.”  Yes, I am comparing an action film to My Fair Lady. 

The film jumps ahead two years to the end of Nikita’s training.  The change in her is startling.  Not only is she different, so is her room, and how she relates to her sponsor.  She may have even developed some strong feelings for him.  He invites her out to dinner at an elegant restaurant as a celebration of the end of her training.  He slides a gift across the table to her.  She is visibly moved by the gesture.  What follows is a powerful scene, both emotionally and action-wise.

The movie shifts again and Nikita is released from the training facility.  They will call on her when they need her for an assignment.  She starts to learn how to interact with people as the new woman she is, not the punk she used to be.  She meets a good guy and starts a relationship with him.  Eventually they go on a vacation together.  This leads to the best scene in the movie.

Nikita finds out that this “vacation” is actually an assignment from the government.  She is to assassinate an unspecified target.  Her boyfriend knows nothing of this, nor anything about what she really does. 

Following instructions she ends up in the bathroom of their hotel room, having assembled a huge sniper rifle from parts hidden there.  She has a headset and microphone on waiting for instructions on her target.  All the while, her boyfriend, sensing distance in her, but not understanding why, stands outside the door and tries to get her to open up emotionally on what is bothering her.  She wants nothing more than to go to the door to be with the man she is falling in love with, but she absolutely has to stay where she is, waiting for the right split second to take out her target.  She cannot even talk to him through the door since the people she is communicating with would hear her.  Will she decide to complete her assignment or will she respond to her man?  This scene is a perfect example of the level of emotion that is contained in this movie.

If this plot sounds familiar, there was a 1993 American remake titled Point of No Return starring Bridget Fonda.  It’s relatively similar in story to the original, but the original is a much better film. 

There were also two TV shows based on this concept.  La Femme Nikita (the TV series) ran from 1997 to 2001 and starred Peta Wilson.  The second show, Nikita, debuted in 2010 and has its second season coming up.  It stars Maggie Q (Mission Impossible III) as the title character.   There was also a 1991 Hong Kong remake titled Hei mao.  I have not seen any of these three, so I cannot comment on how they stack up to the original movie.

Yes, you may fear watching foreign films because of the subtitles, but this is one movie worth getting over that fear for.  I highly recommend this movie.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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