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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 20, 1989


Claude Lelouch
Jean Yanne;
Marie-Sophie Lelouch;
Patrick Bruel;
Charles Gerard
Not rated

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Claude Lelouch salutes the late Jean Gabin -- Humphrey Bogart with ooh-la-la -- in "Bandits," a moony romantic mystery that begins the day Gabin died in 1976. "Without Gabin, gangster films are done," declares the bandit hero, who goes on to prove his point.

"Bandits" isn't really a gangster hommage, it's a sentimental love story a` la Lelouch. Best known for his 1966 romance "A Man and a Woman," the writer-director-producer focuses here on the bond that grows between a gentleman bandit and his daughter during a 10-year separation. As with the pen pals of "84 Charing Cross Road," the post office serves as the go-between in their ever-more-intimate relationship.

Jean Yanne plays the father, Simon Verini, a self-described Robin Hood (though he never gives any of his ill-gotten gains to the poor) who loves nothing better than being with his wife and their 11-year-old Marie-Sophie at their country estate. Then Simon agrees to fence $10 million in jewels, a routine job that leads to the murder of his wife and his wrongful imprisonment.

Vowing to avenge his wife, Simon begins serving his sentence, but not before he has placed Marie-Sophie in a ritzy Swiss boarding school. Many letters and tender reaction shots later, Simon is released and reunited with a succulent, grown-up Marie-Sophie (Lelouch's wife Marie-Sophie L.). They get to know each other over a large lunch, during which she astounds and amazes papa and the waiter by reciting the ingredients in various dishes on the menu.

Simon gives her a watch he has just stolen from Cartier and tells her that a fellow diner has called her a whore. "Often when a man gives a pretty girl a pretty watch that pretty girl is a pretty whore," he says -- a valuable lesson that one simply doesn't learn at one's boarding school. Marie-Sophie makes a moue and lets locks of hair escape from her barrette to fall fetchingly 'round her face.

When she learns that her father is still bent on revenge, she attempts to change his mind. The plot is complicated when a young gangster, Mozart -- maybe her mother's killer -- falls in love with Marie-Sophie, who is already engaged to a Swiss equestrian. The suspense mounts.

While much of the tension comes from the opening of mail, the plot also includes the occasional burst of gunfire, murder, jailbreak and a bomb threat. A lot goes on, but the movie remains uneventful. It sizzles with soul-searching.

"Bandits" is in French with subtitles.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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