Wednesday, October 27, 2010

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #10: Sheitan

A word on the title: “sheitan” is an Islamic word for Satan and not, as I originally thought, a Yorkshireman’s capsule review of the movie (“that French film was a shite ’un”). Which, to be honest, was what I was thinking during the first ten or fifteen minutes.

‘Sheitan’ starts on the evening of 23 December (the date’s important) at the Club Styxx (I’d normally interject a parenthetical “geddit?” at this point, only director Kim Chapiron lays it on so heavy-handedly there’s nothing to get). Our, ahem, heroes are hogging a corner table, eyeing up the talent and royally pissing off the management for not adhering to the two-drink minimum (mainly because they’re skint). Let’s make the introductions. Meet Thai (Nicolas Le Phat Tan): half-French, half-Chinese, shaven-headed, perpetually up for a fight, regards women as sexual objects. Meet Ladj (Ladj Ly): Franco-African, slightly more level-headed than Thai, actually quite philosophical at times, current interests: fielding a constant stream of calls from his girlfriend while trying to bed foxy barmaid Yasmine (Leila Bekhti). Meet Bart (Olivier Barthelemy): white trash loser whom we first meet trying to chat up a girl by calling her “bitch” and getting a bottle broken over his head by one of the bouncers when declines to stop hassling her and get back in line like he’s been told.

(I mention the question of ethnicity for a reason, btw.)

So: this bunch of charmers bump into slumming-it posh girl Eve (Roxane Mesquida) whom Thai decides he wants to knock boots with. Following Bart’s bottle-aided expulsion from Club Styxx (home to the world’s worst DJ) …

… Eve invites the gang to her palatial home in the country, intimating that she’s got the place to herself. Thai and Bart, immediately anticipating that these kind of shenanigans will ensue …

… don’t need asking twice. Yasmine’s got off her shift and is tagging along, so it’s decision made for Ladj as well. One problem: Ladj’s pimped-up GTi is out of fuel. So they rob a petrol station, then it’s off to Eve’s place.

It’s here that they meet Joseph (Vincent Cassel), who Eve introduces as the caretaker. And it was also at this point – after the crude, misogynistic dialogue; the two-dimensional characters; the crap dance music; and the in-yer-face, style-over-substance, too-cool-for-school artifice of the aesthetic – that I stopped shaking my head sadly at the film’s commitment to mediocrity and actually started enjoying it.

Part of the fun is in watching Thai, Ladj and Bart – “fake tough guys” as Joe Pesci would no doubt deem them – experience a sudden depletion in the cojones department as soon as they encounter the cheerfully sinister Joseph. And I gotta say: kudos to Vincent Cassel. Between this and his blistering turn in the ‘Mesrine’ films, the man has justified the fact that he’s married to Monica Bellucci. This is something I do not say lightly.

Joseph is proof of Shakespeare’s adage that “a man may smile, and smile, and be a villain”. Joseph has a smile for everyone. He’s accommodating to the point of overbearing. When the priapic but eternally backed-up Bart ogles the hot-pants clad derriere of village girl Jeanne (Julie Marie-Parmentier), Joseph unhesitatingly offers, in not so many words, to pimp her out. Jeanne herself proves more than willing. The small matter that she’s Joseph’s niece, however, cools Bart’s ardour somewhat.

(There’s a certain interrelatedness as regards the villagers. I mention this in passing.)

Joseph’s also got a friendly word for everyone, be it “little Turk” when he’s talking to Yasmine, “chink” in relation to Thai or dropping the N-word bomb in front of Ladj. And yet there’s no malice when he says any of these things. No malice, either, when he … ah, but that would be telling.

To use another of my occasional critical phrases (y’know, the kind that keep my name out of Sight & Sound), the home stretch of ‘Sheitan’ is batshit crazy. In a film that has gleefully flipped the birdy to its audience and randomly shifted the goalposts from word go – seguing demonically from Shane-Meadows-goes-Euro “yoof” movie to Zalman King-lite (will the low-class oiks get their end away with the high-class girl?) by way of ‘Deliverance’-on-the-Loire – the most bizarre transition is when the film lurches into out-and-out horror (albeit tinged with black comedy) then concludes abruptly and hilariously with the revelation that the whole demented exercise is quite simply a nativity tale.

A dark and twisted one.


Aaron said...

"Between this and his blistering turn in the ‘Mesrine’ films, the man has justified the fact that he’s married to Monica Bellucci. This is something I do not say lightly."

Amen to that. Cassell is certainly not the most handsome man alive, but there's something so magnetic about the guy, which is why I will watch absolutely anything he's in.

Great review of SHEITAN. Your line about the world's worst DJ made me laugh. Our old buddy Hans actually turned me on to this movie and, yes, "batshit crazy" were words that definitely came to mind. Like you, I was a little put off by the opening, but as soon as Cassell's character is introduced, you just KNOW bad things are going to happen.

Neil Fulwood said...

When I mentioned the Cassel/Bellucci union to my wife, her comment was "Wow, the guy must have an amazing personality."

But, hell yeah, the moment he comes into 'Sheitan', he frickin' owns the movie.