First I shall say, Viva La Mag! I’ve seen several films recently that Magnolia Pictures acquired and they are definite winners. Food, Inc. and Bronson come to mind. In fact, both of these made SCREENCOMMENT.COM’S Best-Of list for 2009, published earlier this month.
At first I was thrilled to hear that the B-13 team had come up with a new chapter in the urban squalor saga set in Paris’ less rarefied ‘cité,’ ie, the projects which introduced viewers to parkour. Magnolia Pictures inked the deal and we finally will get to watch this new installment in the U.S and A (hm, which movie am I referencing here?) sometimes early next year. Since I was born and raised in Paris, I’m of course partial to (almost) anything shot there, but the first B-13, which came out in 2004 and was shot by the not-so avant-garde futuristic filmmaker Luc Besson was truly out of the ordinary.
The visual effects that Besson’s editor team cut into the reel made the images look like they were shot out of a machine gun, all the while preserving Besson’s modus operandi: Machiavellian characters duking it out in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world. In a Besson film, only the universe that he lenses exists, there’s nothing on the outside; we’re often led to believe that the rest of civilization has died off after some cataclysm or plague–it certainly was the case in B-13, where we never see Paris itself, just the walled-in cité.
Big cities in democratic nations have to deal with their immigrant populations better, it’s presumed. Exploiting this sort of reality in film, however, gives the filmmaker the advantage of a captive audience. The deadening sound of newscasters droning on about another fatal shooting in some street corner uptown somewhere has been replaced with the dazzle of high-octane shoot’em up cinema.
For this writer, films with guns, violence (and rock’n’roll, at the risk of sounding passe), if done well, merit our attention but they often are hardly worth their salt. If they happen to be set in Paris, then there’s a definite draw, for me. Accordingly one of my favorite French films of the 90s was ‘La Femme Nikita,’ which also was directed by Besson. Another one was QT’s ‘Killing Zoe,’ but that’s because I’m a huge fan of Eric Stoltz. Having seen some scenes from D-13 Ultimatum, well, let’s just say I’m not breaking out the Dom Pérignon but I’ll probably park a couple of cold beers in the fridge, for when I’ll watch the film. The sequel has what any sequel to these types of films would: bigger explosions, more egocentric but also less subtle vilains, and conspiracy theories fueling the whole kit’n’caboodle (I can already hear our French readers, ‘Kit’n’caboodle, c’est quoi?) This points to the old debate about sequels. B-13 would have stood the test of time on its own a little while longer, so why potentially spoil it?
This second installment of B-13 (which stands for banlieue, ie, ‘suburb’ 13) has been rechristened D-13 for American audiences (for District 13, of course). In the story itself, two years passed since Damien Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli) teamed up with the magnetic Leito (parkour originator David Belle) to save the block, a racially-charged ghetto populated by drug-dealing gangs and altogether very bad men. Despite the establishment’s promises to maintain order, the state of the district has deteriorated, and a group of corrupt cops and elected officials are conspiring to cause civil unrest in D13, looking for an excuse to raze the area and cash in on its redevelopment. Mind you, B-13’s premise hasn’t changed much since 2004.
Now Damian and Leito must join forces again, and use their mastery of martial arts and their unique physical skills to bring peace to the neighborhood by any means necessary before … a proposed nuclear air strike wipes it off the map.
Those who have seen the first one will realize, the narrative of this new B-13 is almost dead-on, but so what? If Haneke can make the same film twice, well, bravo Besson. If the chase scenes are as good as the first B-13, count me in. I have been known to play just that chase scene early in the first B13 to people–that’s how good it is. When parkour afficionado David Belle dives feet first through that window above the door, well, that looks like rock’n’roll to me.