This wildly artificial horror thriller marks the directing debut of French special-effects artist Jean-Christophe Comar, and pits real-life historical figure Francois Vidocq against a mysterious phantom dubbed "The Alchemist." Paris, 1830: As the city teeters on the brink of revolution against King Charles X, Vidocq (Gerard Depardieu), a reformed rogue who betrayed his criminal cohorts to join and overhaul the French police force, only to be forced out by jealous associates, fights for his life with a black-clad figure in a glass mask. Their battle, played out in a hellish glass-blowing factory, ends when Vidoq plunges into a pit of fire. His death is front-page news and soon after it makes headlines, fresh-faced writer Etienne Boisset (Guillaume Canet) presents himself at the private investigator's office Vidocq shared with his partner, Nimier (Moussa Maaskri), representing himself as Vidocq's official biographer. Boisset hopes to find Vidocq's killer so he can wrap up his book with a bang, and prevails on the guarded Nimier to share what he knows about the investigation Vidocq was conducting at the time of his death. It began, Nimier says, a week earlier with the "lightening conspiracy": Arms dealer Belmont (Jean-Pol Dubois) and chemist Veraldi (Andre Penvern) were struck by lightening and burst into flames. Inspector Lautrennes (Andre Dussollier) believes they were murdered, and persudes Vidocq to look into the matter. Vidocq's inquiries take him from high-class brothels to degenerate opium dens and uncover a conspiracy of wealthy, decadent men whose narcissistic quest for youth led them to strike a devil's bargain with the Alchemist. Etienne retraces Vidocq's steps, unaware that he's being shadowed by someone who's ruthlessly murdering witnesses and destroying evidence of Vidocq's discoveries. Known for his work on highly stylized films like DELICATESSEN (1991), CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995) and ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997), Comar — who works under the pseudonym "Pitof" — shot his directing debut entirely on digital video and manipulated virtually every shot, producing a bizarrely unreal look that's never less than striking but often verges on the precious. Combined with Comar's fondness for grotesque close-ups and speed-freak editing style, the film's relentless look-at-me factor constitutes an assault on the senses, if not an entirely unpleasant one.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: This wildly artificial horror thriller marks the directing debut of French special-effects artist Jean-Christophe Comar, and pits real-life historical figure Francois Vidocq against a mysterious phantom dubbed "The Alchemist." Paris, 1830: As the city teet… (more)