Cartouche (1962)


France; Philipe de Broca

All Audiences


In the late 17th, Dominique (Jean Paul Belmondo) and his young brother operate as petty thieves in the streets of Paris, but the refusal of authority and injustice that is already boiling within them seems to entitle them to a nobler destiny. When he rebels against the unethical ways of the leader of his gang, Malichot (Marcel Dalio), Dominique must run for his life, and enrolls in the army under the name of Cartouche. With two companions, he will hit it big, in more than one way: not only he gets rich owing to an ambitious scheme he concocted, but also meets the delightful gypsy Venus (Claudia Cardinale), with which he falls in love. But life has much more in store for them, as Dominique becomes France’s most notable outlaw, raiding with fearless panache the rich and the greedy.  

Based loosely on the real-life exploits of an authentic French outlaw, this extravagant fantasy is pitched somewhere at the extreme end of the swashbuckling genre spectrum, magnifying a fairly classic yarn into a delirious, mind-boggling adventure, that comes supercharged with a cartload of glitz, romance, acrobatic swordplay, imbecile villains and witty one-liners. A glorious, unabashed B-movie, Cartouche needs to be seen as such, wearing its modest artistic ambitions on its sleeve with a knowing, broad smile. However, even more fun and silliness wouldn’t have hurt, and the promise of postmodern glitz and gleeful anachronisms soon fades away as a more standard, less funny and irreverent, brand of humor settles down.

Near the end, the film veers towards darker territories, the director eventually finding the power to jolt the viewer with a last-minute evolution, just as the implausible fights ceased to enthrall and weariness sank in . Broca handles surprisingly well this more challenging material, finding in the macabre final scene touches of glum, sad poetry.

Broca delivers a somewhat crippled cinematic idiosyncrasy, never as droll as it should be, but nonetheless rather likeable. Both Belmondo and Cardinale attack the material with a brave gusto and conviction, which may however raise a bemused eyebrow…

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