LA FEMME NIKITA
Some viewers and critics (both French and American) found this slick action thriller to be a sign that French cinema was in dire straits -- that today's filmmakers only cared about imitating the gloss and the technique of Hollywood.
Still, "La Femme Nikita" was widely viewed and praised in France and is one of the rare French films of late to make an impact in the States.
Director Luc Besson's film is high-tech, streamlined and devoid of much deep meaning but it also contains an exciting performance by Anne Parillaud in the title role. If you're annoyed by unnecessarily vague cinematic crafting (bordering, as it does here, on the pretentious), then Mr. Besson's technique of creating mystery by being deliberately obscure might just infuriate you. Looking for meaning -- even coherence -- in "La Femme Nikita" is certainly more trouble than it's worth.
Ms. Parillaud plays a desperate junkie living on the mean streets, scrounging for drugs. She ends up killing a cop during a drug store burglary and is sentenced to death for the crime. She's given an injection she thinks is lethal -- only to wake up in a top-secret government locale. "They" want to turn her into an operative (an assassin), because they think she'll make a good one. (Why ask why?) So she's a sort of post-modern, feminist James Bond.
She's given a new identity and a chance to go on living if she agrees to kill on command. In the course of three years, this street urchin is transformed into a top-secret, top-notch killer. She also learns how to use her femininity as a weapon in itself (she's taught by aging French cinema femme fatale Jeanne Moreau, playing a government bureaucrat with an unusual specialty).
And so kill she does, with blood-chilling efficiency. But what would a French flick be without l'amour? Enter the fun-loving mellow guy Marco (Jean-Hughes Anglade), a grocery clerk who's easy to love. They fall for one another though he, of course, knows nothing of her secret identity.
Confronted with her most important assignment yet, Nikita is forced to make a choice. Mr. Besson keeps the tension level high, and seems to enjoy the violence as much as any Hollywood action director.
Well, maybe we can't look to Europe now for only small, intelligent and thoughtful movies. They still have much to offer, as Ms. Parillaud's enjoyable screen presence proves.
+ Los Angeles Times Syndicate