Back in the early 80s there was a marginally popular song by rock singer Benny Mardones, a very dramatic song (as all songs sung by Benny Mardones are) called “She’s so French.” Great song.
The 1990 action film, “La Femme Nikita” directed by Luc Besson is a lot like the song. It’s French. It’s dramatic. And it’s great.
But it is not without warts. In other words it’s got some really silly–bordering on stupid–stuff in it. Need I reiterate?
Now before anybody gets bent out of shape, it’s just an opinion, a matter of taste and–dare I say–a clash in culture in the way that pink goes with red. Some people like the combination. Others do not.
Anne Parillaud plays Nikita. According to the script, Nikita is a nineteen year old junkie with cyberpunk sensibilities. According to our eyes, the script is lying.
That’s not Parillaud’s fault, necessarily: She was thirty when she played Nikita and she’s too much woman to play it that small. We don’t, for instance, believe that she would wear that top, with those shorts, with those boots.
Neither do we believe that she would wear her hair that way, or that she wouldn’t brush her teeth, or that she would break out in a vaudevillian folk dance in the middle of kicking ass, anarchist heroin junkie or not.
Nonetheless, there she is being drug along–literally–to what turns out to be a botched robbery. Her compatriots are ambushed by the police and shot to pieces.
Nikita survives because she’s in a jones induced world of her own. That, and she’s crouched in a cubbyhole wearing headphones.
When a rather handsome cop finds her and sympathetically removes her earphones, she rewards him by putting her 38 automatic under his chin and blowing his brains out. As you can imagine, that doesn’t go over too well with the rest of the cops.
In fact, the whole law enforcement community brings the hammer down on Nikita. Hard. She gets life with no chance of parole until she serves thirty years.
(Here, in the southern portion of the United States, she would have got the death penalty.)
Nikita is incorrigible. The girl is cur mean; she bites off fingers and stabs through her handler’s hand with an especially sharp pencil.
What’s more, she screams a lot. Her scream is annoying.
Accordingly, things go from bad to horrible, to considerably worse than that, when Nikita finds herself in some kind of prison/dungeon/hospital room with the most affectless team of health care professionals ever assembled.
A doctor seemingly prepares a syringe of poison and plunges the needle into Nikita. She cries for her mother.
We believe her. It is sad.
But a shadowy government subset has other plans for Nikita. Unbeknownst to her, she has been tagged as a prospect for a clandestine, extremely exclusive, squadron of assassins. As such she serves at the pleasure of an elderly, law and order type who hates her guts. We are immediately aware that Nikita has a very short expiration date.
Of course we know this before she does, but she finds out soon enough. Nikita is nothing less than survivor. Therefore, she must learn to make nice.
(She has the killing stuff down pat, but she still practices.)
Now as we become voyeurs to her “new” life, we also become investors into director Besson’s vision. We are amused as his muse learns to mind her manners. We approve as she bends her will to fashion. We worry when she goes on suicide mission with a gun that is bigger than she is and when she finds the window she is supposed to escape through inexplicably bricked in.
Nikita achieves her transformation with the help of a matriarchal tutor, the great femme fatale Jeanne Moreau, as Amanda, who has survived a very long time in the squadron to which Nikita belongs.
Oh, and did I mention romance? There is some.
So it is here, about halfway through, where Besson’s film really takes off, where it flatteringly grows into its Irma la Douce form even as it keeps its riot girrrl figure.
And fittingly, this is where La Femme Nikita earns its stature as the prototype. It has never been done better, though–predictably–Hollywood continues to try.