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‘La Femme Nikita’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 05, 1991

Let's make things perfectly clear: "La Femme Nikita" is ludicrous. Its logic flies out the window like a rocket. It's unbelievable and ridiculous. Consider your common sense warned.

But if Luc Besson's latest goes into absurd overdrive, it does so with entertaining finesse. This French movie's a stylistic blast if your sensibilities are -- how you say? -- postpunk. You must also dig cinematic pretentiousness, nihilistic flash and cutting-edge hiposity. You need to like gunfire, indulgent references to other movies and subtitles. You need, most of all, to love a leggy, murderous woman in black.

The femme in question is Anne Parillaud. Pronounced Paree-Yo. A heroin addict with a volatile personality, she breaks into a pharmacy with a gang of drug-deranged cohorts. When cops interrupt the robbery, it becomes a bloodbath. After the carnage, Parillaud sits catatonically on the floor, a Walkman strapped to her ears. An armed cop approaches her. She waits for him to lower his weapon, pulls out a gun and blows him away.

"Driving Miss Daisy" this ain't.

But fascinating it is. Parillaud may be a bizarre movie creation but she's also a memorable one -- an unfortunate rarity for female film characters. She terrorizes the male population. She stabs their hands with pencils, bites their ears and kicks them in the crotch at the slightest provocation. Men who love her (Tcheky Karyo and Jean-Hugues Anglade) learn to give her a lot of space.

In a postmodern twist on "Pygmalion," convicted Parillaud is given a new lease on life after the cop killing. Special agent Karyo rebuilds her into a professional assassin for the government. She's taught martial arts and sharpshooting. She's even trained to act like a lady.

Besson compounds this irony by casting screen-siren Jeanne Moreau as Parillaud's feminine mentor; the old sex symbol teaches the aspiring one how to be a star.

Two things are without limit, Moreau tells her charge: "Femininity and the ways of taking advantage of it."

But Parillaud is about to discover some disadvantages. Those soft feelings. On constant, nerve-wracking call for undercover killings, she starts to get second thoughts about everything. She learns about tears. Above all, she learns about l'amour, with cashier boyfriend Anglade. She should have suspected all along that, after Besson gave her cinematic run of the house, he was going to make her do the dishes.

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