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Paris Countdown (La Jour Attendra)

Film Five Stars
I love thrillers and I love stylish ones. Now if it comes from Europe then I'm pretty much sold on the film before I've even read anything of it, and that is basically how I came to Paris Countdown (La Jour Attendra) at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The blurb read well too and watching the trailer confirmed that it was going to be the stylish film I expected.

What I didn't expect was how tough some of the scenes were going to be and what the ending had in store for me. In fact the film not only surprised me but the ending also stayed with me for some time and I found it had more of a lasting effect than I expected.

Plot.pngParisCountdown.jpgHere is the Edinburgh International Film Festival brochure plot outline:
With the city streets of Paris stylishlydeployed to maximum dramatic effect,explosive bursts of deftly-handled action anda score straight out of clubland, it's hard tobelieve that this slick, high-octane thriller isdirector Edgar Marie's debut feature. In thecentral roles, Olivier Marchal and JacquesGamblin are superb, their volatile, fracturedrelationship stretched to breaking point asone fateful night's events spiral dangerouslyout of control.

Followed by the trailer:

TheFilm.pngAs the film opens you see the style in the over saturated Mexican desert leading into the dark and dangerous underground interrogation chamber and you also see the extremes that the film is going to offer. These aren't just in the locations and the cinematography, these are the visual differences you see between the sequences, but there's a difference in intent between them and we turn darker and far more serious when we go underground.

The film opens with a strong thriller element as well as a whiff of humour but quickly turns dark and delivers a powerful moment which shatters the relationship between the two leading characters and sets them up for the rest of the story.

The film then takes a leap forward taking us and the characters away from their tough experience in Mexico and returning them to the streets of Paris years later. It is here where the thriller really begins with short and powerful scenes reintroducing us to our three main characters and setting up where they are now as well as laying out the plot of the film.

There are many aspects of the writing that I really loved and one of them was the way it brought us forward to deliver our characters and those around them aged somewhat more than you'd expect. The leads, both good and bad, are all affected by their age both physically and emotionally and they all carry their own baggage and scars of the opening story. It was a clever angle to view the story from and captured my imagination from the beginning. It feels much more than a standard "years later…" story and gives much more depth.

The best part of the story is the relationship between the two main characters made all the better by the two actors who play them so well and whose chemistry works so well on screen, Jacques Gamblin and Olivier Marchal. Marchal plays Milan, the aging club owner gripping onto the last vestiges of youth mixed with the more mature character of Victor played by Gamblin who has been so badly hurt by the events in their past provide a very strong emotional core to the film. Their relationship, the way it evolves, and the natural humour that plays between them, keep you engaged and it doesn't take long for you to warm to and empathise with them despite their choices and situations.

Another strong aspect of the script is the way these two characters slowly come back together, their growing relationship is never overplayed and feels very natural in line with the rest of the story. All this reflects a very well-conceived and written script, one which brings complex characters and relationships together in a strong and stylish thriller.

Both writer and director also manage to keep restraint at the fore. This could have easily gone over the top in a number of areas such as the style, the gangster story or the action, but in each of these areas the film never does cross any lines and it keeps the focus on our main characters and that key relationship, pushing story over the style. They've also steered clear from clichés as the story delivers some interesting and surprising choices for our characters and tough ones at that, much of that surprise comes in the last act and the ending.

You can see a strong example of this in the corridor gun fight which, although does seem a little surprising in the conclusion, does feel much more like a real shoot out in its execution. It is also apparent in the bad guy that the film presents. He's not an unstoppable terminator or a hapless failed gangster, he's a real scary bad guy who delivers fear through his actions and reputation not hard stares and attitude.

The film had, at times, shades of a Michael Mann or the touch of a similar stylised director to it. It isn't just the script that works well here it's the direction too. There are some very cool shots in a number of scenes and it's never a case of style over substance, the cinematography remains strong for the entire film and never takes over from the story, just compliments it.

There are a few scenes early on where I was a little distracted by the shaky-cam but either I became desensitised to it and invested in the film or it stopped. I'm not sure which but the outcome is that it didn't try and stand in the way of the film after the first few scenes.

It's not just the filming that's strong, there's also a good soundtrack to match the cinematography, the club settings and the pace of the film keeping the speed going through the music as well as the visuals and no doubt through one of the main character's bloodstream.

The film delivers a powerful ending which is both shocking and surprising and again comes across as something more thought through not resorting to expected film behaviour. It is also a very personal ending and one that managed to affect me quite strongly. It was here that I realised just how much that the characters had managed to worm their way into my mind and indeed my heart. I'd actually come to like them and their very relatable relationship, minus the drugs and women...well maybe the latter in my younger days.

Overall.pngParis Countdown (La Jour Attendra) is a stylish thriller that delivers visually as well as it does in the story. There are engaging and realistic characters who at times seem very real and easy to connect with. The writing is very strong, if only viewed through these two leading characters and their relationship together which develops well and really does draw you in. It doesn't stop there though as the script delivers an excellent thriller that isn't scared to get heavy and still remain realistic without having to overstep into scenes of stylised violence to appear tough and edgy. Yet at the same time it never seems to shy away from the tougher moments.

It isn't just the excellent script that provides this film its strength it is also in the direction too. It never slides into being stylish for style sake and yet it does deliver plenty of stylish scenes. Unlike similar action or gangster films filled with style Paris Countdown doesn't feel overly violent as it keeps the violence within the action sequences down and when it does get violent it doesn't show too much, however it never feels like it's pulling punches to deliver a deliberately less violent film.

The leads of Jacques Gamblin and Olivier Marchal are very good and their relationship is very well written and developed through the film. This makes the ending feel all the more personal and hits even harder. In fact the ending really surprised and genuinely affected me, staying with me for most of the day.

This thriller is superbly written and creates a great story that not only escalates the action and suspense but also creates these two great characters and a relationship which develops well throughout the film delivering a powerful ending. Along with the strong direction and cinematography Paris Countdown (La Jour Attendra) is superb thriller that delivers on story, style, characters and twists without hitting the clichés.

More on Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013 on Filmstalker
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Edinburgh International Film Festival Official Site
UK IMDB Film Details




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