June 22, 2012

A series of recent French films have aped the style of the popular, flashy Diva, in hopes of hitting the international jackpot once again. I didn’t care that much for Diva when it was first released, but its imitators have made it look much better in retrospect; where Diva was colorful and witty, the pretenders are soulless and stupefying.

The latest clone is Subway, which features similarly New Wavey visuals and off-the-wall humor. The gimmick here is that almost the entire film is set underneath Paris, in the extensive subway system, which, with its restaurants, stores, and hiding places, is a world unto itself.

It’s the inadvertent end point for a safecracker (Christophe Lambert of Greystoke—known as Christopher when he makes movies in English) who’s just escaped the gendarmes in a high-speed chase. He’s a bit conspicuous in his tuxedo and bleached spiky hair, but he soon discovers the hidden corridors of the subterranean world, and finds a few friends to help him fit in.

He’s followed by the bored upper-class woman (Isabelle Adjani) whose safe he just blew. He lifted some important papers from the safe, but just what they are, we never find out, or maybe I missed it in all the hubbub. Anyway, she wants them back, but she also seems to feel a bit of the old animal magnetism for the fugitive. And he feels the same thing for her.

But their eventual romantic clinch is delayed by all sorts of problems, including her brutish husband’s henchmen and the daffy police force, who split their time between searching for Lambert and trying to find a particularly frustrating roller-skating purse-snatcher.

The most interesting thing about all this is the creation of the underground, where a community of oddballs lives off petty crime and nighttime thievery: an untrustworthy flower-seller, a collection of musicians who throw parties for each other, and a weight-lifting giant who breaks Lambert out of his troublesome handcuffs with a good hard yank.

Director Luc Besson’s efforts at telling a coherent story aren’t too successful, not that he seems to be trying that hard. The plot strands splatter in all directions, and he doesn’t bother cleaning up after.

His primary concern is effect, so he throws some fancy camerawork into the mix. An occasional shot, such as the subterraneans watching welders working on the rails at night, pays off. The frequent hyperactivity doesn’t do anything for the movie’s clarity, but it does make for fun, sometimes. Look, put it this way: Boiled down to 15 minutes, Subway would make a good long-play music video.

First published in the Herald, November 1985

Now that I have grown into a somewhat guilty Luc Besson fan, I wonder if I might like this more. Somehow I doubt it. By the way, when I say “New Wavey,” I assume I refer to the Eighties pop-culture movement, and not the Nouvelle Vague of Besson’s predecessors.