J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fantasia ’17: Thousand Cuts

Call it the Gallic corollary to the Broken Windows Theory. By allowing racist intimidation to continue unchecked, the Gendarmerie actually creates an environment where drug cartel warfare and hostage-taking can flourish. Everybody is in the wrong place, at the wrong time during Eric Valette’s Thousand Cuts or Le Serpent aux Mille Coupures (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

There is a full-scale, all-points manhunt on to capture “The Motorcyclist.” News reports call him a terrorist, but in France that could just mean he wrote a letter to the editor criticizing multiculturalism. Regardless, it will be Colombian drug traffickers waiting for their French connection who stumble across the mystery man first, but they won’t live to talk about it.

Wounded in his misadventures, the Motorcyclist forces his way into the bi-racial Petit family’s farmhouse. For months, the racist yokels have been harassing French-Senegalese Omar Petit and killing their livestock. As a result, the Petits are not inclined to call the police and if they did, the coppers would be unlikely to respond. However, they still must endure a very real hostage crisis. Even though the Motorcyclist quickly figures out their desperate circumstances and he privately shows signs of sympathizing, he is still not inclined to trust his hosts. Meanwhile, when their deal goes sour, the Colombian cartel dispatches their ace hitman-trouble-shooter to “stabilize” the situation.

Frankly, aside from the xenophobic rustics, it is pretty confusing just who all the dozens of bad guys are and which factions they are aligned with. However, there is no mistaking Terence Yin’s career breakout performance as the blue-eyed Chinese-German-Colombian assassin-problem-solver. He is absolutely riveting in a creepily charismatic, discomfortingly sadistic kind of way. Tomer Sisley (spending time in an even more confining location than in the original Sleepless Night) is all very credible brooding and throwing down as the Motorcyclist, but he just can’t compare to Yin. However, Stéphane Debac compliments him nicely, as the cartel’s French fixer, who is in way over his head, while Pascal Greggory helps humanize the film as the overwhelmed police chief, who could have avoided a lot of this trouble if he had been more proactive addressing the plight of the Petits.

Thousand Cuts has a terrific villain, a nifty action climax, and it makes French society look profoundly corrupt and prejudiced. What more could you ask for, except maybe greater narrative clarity? Recommended for fans of hardboiled French fugitive thrillers, like Valette’s The Prey and Fred Cavayé’s Point Blank, Thousand Cuts (Le Serpent aux Mille Coupure) screens tonight (7/26) and Friday night (7/28) as part of this year’s Fantasia.

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