Lady Jane

Getting Your Own Back

April 8, 2008By Paris UpdateFilm

After an effective and mysterious opening scene with masked robbers distributing fur coats to women in the Marseille housing projects and a first 45 minutes of entertaining, relatively fast-paced and exciting thriller action, Robert Guédiguian’s Lady Jane goes to pot. (Yes, the title does refer to weed.) It’s as if his instincts as a French filmmaker – with all that that can sometimes apply – kick in and kill his film: stop the action, let’s talk.

Set for the most part in Avignon rather than the director’s usual stomping ground of Marseille, Lady Jane is about Muriel (Ariane Ascaride), François (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and René (Gérard Meylan), three ex-cons who, after a series of jewelry heists, have done their time and gone straight. One day, out of the blue, Muriel’s son is kidnapped and she calls her old gang mates François and René, the only people she thinks can help her get the ransom together.

Those first 45 minutes give you the false impression that after Guédiguian’s heavyweight historical reconstruction, Le Promeneur du Champs de Mars (about former French President François Mitterrand), the director just wanted to make an entertaining genre film. It’s extremely well set up and there is a stunning scene – about which I can tell you nothing without spoiling things – set in an underground car park that’s almost a mini-master class in filmmaking.

But then it all goes horribly wrong. In the name of goodness knows what – intellectualism? Fear of making things too entertaining? Who knows – the director brings his own film to a teeth-grindingly stupid halt. François decides that he’s still in love with Muriel and takes her out for the day, ostensibly to remind her of all the places they used to frequent in their gangster days. They visit an old, now bedridden, friend who for no real reason launches into a long, rambling and terribly banal speech about revenge. This is just in case you haven’t understood from the characters’ previous discussions that that is the film’s ostensible subject.

Then, just in case you haven’t understood the explanation of the explanation, Guédiguian has a TV in the background showing a documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. (This is a device used to far greater and subtler effect by Michael Haneke in Caché, in which a TV showing violent news reinforced the sense that however placid your life may be, the world is full of unexpected violence.)

And, just in case you haven’t spotted the images, haven’t listened to the speech and haven’t been listening to the main characters at all, the man on the bed points to the TV and says, “It’s all just stories of revenge.” Really? Well, thank you, I’d never have noticed.

Anyway, by the time Guédiguian decides to get his film going again it’s far, far too late; he has sucked all the momentum out of his Lady Jane. By the time the mystery has been solved, the three main characters have had another discussion about the rights and wrongs of revenge (seriously, again), and justice has been done (or has it?), you’re long past caring. Which doesn’t stop it being truly annoying when, just before the credits roll, and I presume for the benefit of anyone who really hasn’t been listening – as if we’ve had the choice – Guédiguian places an Armenian saying on the screen that’s all about, you’ve guessed it, revenge!

Note to Robert: quit the jibberjabber, stop treating your audience as village idiots and concentrate on the action. If only you had, you could have made a good film. Which you haven’t.


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