Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

My Top Five Jean Reno Films

Okay, here's a question for you all: what country does Jean Reno come from?

Well, yes, he is French now, but he was actually born in Morocco of Spanish parents and only moved to France when he was seventeen.

I bet you didn't know that.

Number 5: The Big Blue

A triumph of style over substance, Luc Besson's film does require you to be in the mood for long, arty underwater shots set to music.

I first watched it at the solar powered cinema at the Big Green Gathering where the charitable donations of itinerant dope peddler had got me into a suitably sublime frame of mind. Watched with a clear head it's a tad boring, but it does manage to make free diving seem interesting, rather than just weird and masochistic.

Reno though is great. When he makes his first appearance, out of a battered, old Fiat 500, he still manages to look cooler than 99% of other actors in flashier cars.

Number 4: Nikita

I love Nikita, but it only gets number 4 because this is a Jean Reno top 5 and not an Anne Parillaud top 5.

Reno only has a cameo as 'Victor: The Cleaner", but what a cameo. The US remake was competently done and featured Harvey Keitel in the same role. Nothing wrong with Keitel's performance, but Reno blows him out of the water easily.

And it's got Anne Parillaud in it - but I think I've already said that.

Number 3: Les Visiteurs

Reno plays Godefroy de Papincourt, a Don Quixote-esq knight thrown through time into the twentieth century. Accompanied by his Baldrick-like squire Jacquouille (which means something very rude in French) they blunder through modern France.

The American remake set the story in medieval England and the contemporary USA, which misses most of the point of the original film, where the Revolution has turned society upside down so Jacquouille's descendant now has Godefroy's castle.

Acting honours go, after Reno, to Valérie Lemercier who plays Godefroy's medieval princess bride and her modern descendant, still regal and demur despite being married to a boorish, bourgeois dentist.

There aren't many good French comedies, but this is one. In fact, this might be the only one.

Number 2: Roseanne's Grave

You've probably never heard of it, but this is a lovely little romantic comedy.

Not that you'd guess the genre from the theme; Reno's wife (Mercedes Ruehl) is dying of a heart condition and Reno is determined that she'll get the last plot in the cemetery. That means keeping everybody else alive, not an easy job when his village includes smokers, dangerous drivers, an elderly patient on a life support machine and an escaped kidnapper with a hit man after them.

Despite all this we actually end up with a happy ending, and a great joke ("Is the Mayor of New York still Italian?" "Why would anybody want to stop being Italian?"). A great little film.

Number 1: Léon

But what we really want to see is not Reno playing a romantic Everyman, but a ruthless killer.

Victor's cameo in Nikita was so good we clearly hadn't seen the last of him, so resurrected and renamed he returns as Léon. Characterised by a woolly hat, shades and a pet plant (and not a lot else) Reno's hit man loner teams up with a young Natalie Portman and shoots lots of people whilst Gary Oldman's OTT drug addict cop tries to get him.

It's a basic shoot-'em-up thriller, complete with the obligatory obliteration of a SWAT team (see Terminator II, Speed, etc), it's Reno who makes it all worth watching.

A character-led hit-man movie, this is probably the most violent film I've ever seen in an Art House cinema, which just goes to show how thoroughly confusing Jean Reno films can be.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Egypt: What Will The Army Do?

As the drama in Egypt unfolds, the key question is - what will the army do?

Usually in discussing Africa the answer would be simple: they'd do what the President said unless it involved fighting another army with guns, in which case they'd run a mile.

Egypt though is a bit different. They are a real army and if it hadn't been their bad luck to fight the Israel in most of their wars they'd have an excellent reputation. As Nasser said, in one of his wittier moments, the problem was that there were a quarter of a million Jews in the Israeli army and none in the Egyptian.

However their success in the early stages of the 1973 Yom Kippur war stands out as the only success in conventional warfare of a Arab army against Israel. They took the IDF (and many of their own soldiers) completely by surprise with their attack across the Suez canal, neatly removing the sand banks that Israel had erected with fire hoses. They then used their newly aquired Soviet anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight off the Israeli counter attacks. Israel has never revealed how many planes it lost in the war, and pundits speculate up to half their air force was shot down.

If their Syrian allies hadn't been obliterates in the Golan Heights they might be there still. Unfortunately the Egyptians had to launch an unplanned attack into the Sinai desert to rescue Syria. Defeat was inevitable when peace eventually broke out the Egyptian army was virtually surrounded and on its last legs.

In the years since then the army, although struggling with mass illiteracy in its ranks like most African armies, has become more professional. They meet the Yanks every couple of years to play war games, but hopefully haven't picked up too many bad habits from them.

So far the army seems to be playing a straight bat, dispersing the pro-Mubarak thugs and leaving the other demonstrators alone. So far, so good.

Whether or not a country with the grinding economic problems that Egypt has really needs half a million men in uniform is a good questions, but at the moment it seems that the Egyptian army is that very rare thing in Africa: an army that is more of a threat to the nations enemies than its own people.