What’s better than two films starring Jean-Paul Belmondo? Two films starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, directed by Philippe de Broca. Kino Lorber has just released Cartouche and Le Magnifique on Blu-Ray and DVD and here’s what to expect:
Despite there being enough tricorn hats to get a person’s hopes up, de Broca’s Cartouche takes place strictly on land. There are no pirates in this picture. Instead Belmondo stars as Cartouche, a French Robin Hood who starts out working for a gang of thieves straight out of Oliver! before taking over as the gang’s leader.
In between he joins the army, where he meets Mole (Jean Rochefort) and Gentle (Jess Hahn), who become his right- and left-hand men. If Gentle is the bulldozer who can take people out like it’s nothing, Mole is the guy who casually stands in a corner during a fight yet always picks the right moment to knock someone out with a bottle.
Like all Robin Hood types, Cartouche has a flair for the extravagant. At one point de Broca includes a montage of Cartouche putting his signature on things, including a shot where it looks like Cartouche drops into frame from the ceiling. The illusion is somewhat broken when Cartouche then writes the letter “C” for the benefit of the audience, instead of the mirror image, but it’s still a rousing sequence.
Whether it’s the war, though, or a bar fight that feels like it was staged by The Three Stooges (Belmondo even twists an opponent’s nose), Cartouche is the most buoyant when it’s taking the piss out of things. It doesn’t necessarily sound like de Broca would’ve agreed. In a bonus documentary (Adventures with a Capital “C”),de Broca’s widow, Alexandra de Broca, mentions, “The idea at the end of the film, you know, these three characters who run and ride horses very fast, and the army is made fun of, and the general is absolutely ridiculous… Philippe didn’t like such things too much in films.” What it does sound like de Broca was interested in was the real Cartouche, and perhaps his name is bigger in France, butit’s still easy to watch Cartouche and not realize Louis Dominique Bourguignon was a real person.
If Belmondo’s Cartouche does feel real, though, it’s because he’s not very likable. De Broca didn’t want to glorify Cartouche and he’s more human as a result, but human isn’t necessarily fun to watch – especially when it means watching his love interest, Venus (Claudia Cardinale), get treated terribly. Cardinale has a very similar screen presence to Brigit Bardot in this movie. She’s no damsel in distress and if there’s one thing that can be said for de Broca’s screenplay, which he co-wrote with Daniel Boulanger and Charles Spaak, it’s that Venus is always shown fighting alongside Cartouche. Cartouche’s roving eye would be easier to tolerate, though, if her character arc wasn’t straight out of Les Misérables.
Cartouche has other flaws, too. The film misses opportunities to beef-up its side characters and always lets the enemy not have gun when it’s convenient. Apparently, there was going be a sequel to Cartouche (film historian, Simon Abrams, talks about it in his commentary), but it never happened. That’s probably for the best, but whether Cartouche lives up to the cover image, the film has its moments.
Le Magnifique (1973)
Because if the fall doesn’t kill you, the shark will. This is what you find out in the first few minutes of Le Magnifique, which sees a man in a phone booth get picked up like a prize in a claw machine, dropped in the ocean, and killed by a shark that a waiting team of scuba divers unleashed. Most films, after setting the bar that high, would have trouble trying to top it. Le Magnifique never stops.
Belmondo and Jacqueline Bisset star as super spies, Bob Saint-Clair and Tatiana. Their mission, at first, is to investigate the death of the man who was killed by the shark, but the details aren’t important. What matters is the film never misses an opportunity to get a laugh, whether it’s Bob stepping out of the pool and having a comb in his swim trunks, or Bob randomly destroying a listening device. In Cartouche Belmondo could seem too hot headed sometimes, but in Le Magnifique he’s calm, cool, and collected. It’s why his mistakes don’t seem serious. He always shrugs them off.
Not everything is what it seems, and the twist in this movie is spectacular. You don’t see it coming. Le Magnifique also exaggerates the violence, so it never feels offensive. Every wound squirts blood, but there is one sequence towards the end that’s jarring (film historians, Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson discuss it in their commentary).
Cartouche and Le Magnifique are available now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.