J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Violent Life: Corsican Gangsters and Separatists

Sometimes you have to wonder why contending parties would bother asserting their competing claims to hopelessly economically depressed territories, but Corsica is different. The picturesque Mediterranean isle has obvious potential for tourism and real estate development, if it were not for the unchecked organized crime and escalating separatist violence. Frankly, it is tricky to distinguish the separatist radicals from the gangsters in Thierry de Peretti’s A Violent Life (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

Based on the in media res opening, we know things will get dicey for Stéphane. Initially, the university student was not inclined to be political. In fact, he was openly hostile to extremism on either side. However, when he rather inexplicable agrees to ferry a shipment of guns for his independence-supporting common crook pals (the motivation here is the film’s biggest pothole), he gets pinched and sent to prison, where he is radicalized by François, a grizzled separatist ring-leader.

When both men are released, Stéphane becomes François’s liaison to the domestic Corsican underground. Essentially, Stéphane’s old chums agree to lend their muscle to François’s network, in exchange for support and cover for their illicit business. However, this does not sit well with the international crime syndicates that the French government in Paris allows to operate freely on Corsica, as a way to keep the local populace cowed and marginalized, or so François explicitly charges. Regardless of conspiratorial arrangements, there are plenty of heavily armed people on the island, who are not happy with Stéphane and his comrades.

Violent Life tells an epic story that compares very directly to many Sicilian-based mafia dramas, but de Peretti’s approach, favoring medium-wide shots (or even wider), has a distancing effect. Stylistically, it shares a kinship with Garrone’s Gomorrah and to a lesser extent, The Connection. Despite all the resentments and rivalries erupting on-screen, de Peretti maintains a cold cerebral tone that gives the film the texture and vibe of a docudrama.

The ensemble mostly features local Corsican first-timers, but they certainly look the part. In fact, Jean Michelangeli’s quiet intensity as Stéphane rather effectively anchors the film. However, it is professional ringer Marie-Pierre Nouveau who makes the strongest emotional connection as Jeanne, Stéphane’s young-looking mother, who is desperate to protect her wayward son.

Corsica is not exactly top-of-mind for many Americans, but de Peretti and co-screenwriter Guillaume Breaud clearly illustrate how thorny life is there. It is an easy film to admire, but a hard film to love. Recommended for fans of ambitious crime dramas, A Violent Life releases today (4/24) on DVD, from Distrib Films US/Icarus.

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