If I move, kill me

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Robert Nott I The New Mex­i­can

Mes­rine: Killer In­stinct and Mes­rine: Pub­lic En­emy #1, French crime saga in two parts, rated R, in French with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles Jac­ques Mes­rine (1936-1979) was the French John Dillinger of the 1970s. Known as the man of a hun­dred faces for his abil­ity to dis­guise him­self, he made an art out of bank rob­bery, kid­nap­ping, and murder. He got caught up in the aura of his celebrity near his end and be­gan claim­ing that he was rob­bing banks as a po­lit­i­cal state­ment (hardly true). But de­spite an outer charm that won over the ladies and im­pressed other men, he was a cold, cal­cu­lat­ing crim­i­nal whose cocky, con­fi­dent at­ti­tude sug­gested that he could find a way out of hell if need be.

At least that’s the im­pres­sion you may get while watch­ing Jean-François Richet’s two-part biopic Mes­rine: Killer In­stinct and Mes­rine: Pub­lic En­emy #1. (The films play in two parts, on sep­a­rate nights, at The Screen.) Shot back-to-back in 2007 and 2008, this roughly four-hour epic cov­ers the slow rise and very quick fall of a man who re­port­edly said, “No one kills me un­til I say.”

And then, one day late in 1979, some­body — a lot of some­bod­ies, ac­tu­ally — killed him. Whether it was an as­sas­si­na­tion or a killing in self-de­fense re­mains unan­swered (the ques­tion is whether Mes­rine reached for his gun when a cadre of cop­pers sur­rounded him), but it’s how Richet chooses to opens the story. We quickly get the point: crime may pay for a while, but when the tab fi­nally ar­rives, there will be blood.

Mes­rine was a dar­ing man, go­ing all out to rob two banks on the same street within the span of min­utes and tak­ing part in a two-man sui­ci­dal at­tack on a ru­ral prison in an ef­fort to free the in­mates (some of whom were his for­mer peers). He claimed to have killed more than 40 men, and he crowed about es­cap­ing from at least four pris­ons. He pulled off a star­tling court­room es­cape once in France, and he even had the au­thor­i­ties in Canada and Amer­ica chas­ing him for a while. One of the films’ few laugh-out-loud se­quences in­volves Mes­rine and his moll rac­ing

Gun­smoke gets in your eyes: Vin­cent Cas­sel, left, and Gilles Lel­louche

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