Saturday, April 14, 2012


Vidocq: French pulp fiction on the screen

Vidocq is the French title. Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidocq is the U.S. title.

If you've read Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier's Shadowmen: Heroes and Villians of French Pulp Fiction (and if you haven't, and you are a fan of pulp fiction, you should -- it's available from the Lofficier's Black Coat Press site and from Amazon), you know that Vidocq is "the real life master criminal turned Prefect of Police who, in 1841, had influenced Edgar Allan Poe in the creation of C. Auguste Dupin." Closer to home, Vidocq inspired Emile Gaboriau to create the police detective Monsieur Lecoq.

Vidocq's own life has, like that of the American figures Davy Crockett and Buffalo Bill Cody, become rather legendary as fiction has grown larger than his real-life exploits.

Dark Portals (2007) is directed by Pitof, who also directed Catwoman (2004) and Fire & Ice (2008). If you like that hyper-realistic cinematography of From Hell (2002) or 300 (2007), you'll see it in full flower here, with colors and blacks at full+ saturation. This style of cinematography certainly is effective in this gothic, noirish story, but sometimes the eyes get a bit weary and need some more mundane camera work.

There are many underground scenes, as a journalist seeks clues to the apparent murder of the police detective, Vidocq. Pitof drenches these sets with fiery reds and oranges, evoking a sense of Hell on earth. This is entirely appropriate, as the time period -- 1830 -- is one of violent, bloody revolution: the citizens of Paris are in the midst of rising to overthrow King Charles X. If you think Fellini's Satyricon captures on celluloid portraits of ugliness, you ain't seen nothin' yet -- at least until Pitof takes you to the tenderloin district on the trail of Vidocq's investigation.  You can see the trailer on YouTube by clicking here.

This is pure pulp fiction put onscreen. It's interesting to see Gerard Depardieu in the role of action hero at this point in his career, but he's always fun to watch. Vidocq ends up with some steampunk elements informing the climax, but that's okay. Viewing this movie, it's easy to see how Vidocq may have influenced the makers of the short-lived TV series The Cape. But Vidocq is much grittier, darker, and gut wrenching. Not for the squeamish.

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