Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Banlieue 13 / District 13 (Pierre Morel, France, 2004)

Called “parkour,” “yamakasi,” or “free running,” depending on what circle you’re in, this “art of movement” gained popularity in France in the ‘90s. Since then it’s been popularized by director Luc Besson in films he’s produced and co-written such as YAMAKASI (Ariel Zeitoun & Julien Seri, 2001) and BANLIEUE 13. (The “sport” was later introduced to American audiences in CASINO ROYALE (Martin Campbell, 2006)).

BANLIEUE 13 owes much of its plot to John Carpenter. Set in 2010, the less-desirable districts of Paris have been walled off to keep the riff-raff away from the decent people. Not everyone inside of B13 is a bad egg. In fact, Leito (David Belle) openly defies the will of Taha Bemamud (co-writer Bibi Naceri), the district’s criminal overlord. Through some amazing acrobatic fighting and an intense chase, Leito and his sister, Lola (Dany Verissimo), bring Taha to the last working police station in the district. He’s told that the cops are “slowly packing things up.” Rather than turning into ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, the cops throw Leito in jail and give Lola to Taha before setting the bad guy free.

Six months later, the cops need Leito’s knowledge of the borough when Taha steals a neutron bomb (under suspicious circumstances). The clock is ticking. Hot shot cop Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) goes undercover and breaks into B13 with Leito in tow. The two form an uneasy partnership as they re-enact ESCAPE FROM L.A., each vying for the Snake Plissken role. Their motivations for making it into B13 are tied together, literally, as Lola is chained to the bomb. The two fight their way to their goals via some astounding set pieces. To picture these, think of twenty Jackie Chans running through the streets of Paris and you have a good approximation.

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