Cinema du look refers to a movement and a style of filmmaking, which first became popular in the early 1980s and continued to be successful right into the 90s with Luc Besson’s Leon in 1994. Cinema du look’s three main directors are said probably Luc Besson, Jean-Jacques Beineix and Los Carax and the style of Cinema du look was said to have originated with Jean-Jacques Beineix’s film Diva in 1980. The numerous popular successes of films like Besson’s Subway and Grand Bleu and Carax’s 37,2 gres le matin have meant the style of cinema du look has always been very successful amongst the young people of France.
French critics on the other hand have always been very critical of Cinema du look and in particular of the work of Luc Besson and accuse him of being too commercial, cinematically autistic and not true to the values of French cinema. This is ironic because the cinema du look was an attempt to breakaway from the intellectual tradition of French film. The intellectual cinema magazine Cahiers du cinï¿½ma once wrote that the style was ‘superficial, and shows a complete absence of political and social concerns.’ Although despite all these negative criticisms when interviewed Besson once described himself to Picasso, which seems to imply that he sees himself more of an artist than a director.
Although being essentially an urban thriller with romance thrown in, the film of Nikita is another of Besson’s most famous films (the most famous probably being Le Grand Bleu) and is also a prime example of a cinema du look film. The film follows the story of Nikita a 20 year old drug addict who is caught after a gun battle with police and sentenced to death. She is given a reprieve if she agrees to train as an assassin and therefore the film is separated into two halves, her life in the centre and her life outside with her Marco.
Films of cinema du look are unashamedly escapist and full of implausible plots. Would the government really take a drug addict sentenced to death and give her the chance to become an assassin, training her in a mysterious high tech compound? Whilst all this is going on right in the heart of Paris, the inclusion of a subterranean criminal community all helps to add to the unreality and therefore escapism of the story line. Cinema du look in general is usually defined to an urban setting and portrays cities as dangerous places, as is the case of Nikita which is set around the streets of Paris. As Nikita is leaving the compound after her training she says to Bob she is afraid, this is unsurprising as she spent 2 years the in center.
The style of cinema du look means that style has a tendency to take precedence over content and the visual style is very extreme, for example in the use of colours. The colours and lighting play a big part in giving the films an image similar to and influenced by television adverts and music videos and this is may be why they remain so popular amongst young people. The opening scene is bathed in a blue light for example and during the shoot out with the police, the lighting is used to present 2 different sides, Nikita and her friends are shown in blue in the pharmacy whilst the police are outside with the red flashing lights of the police car. At one point a policeman looks through his gun and we see everything in an infra-red light with numbers at the top of the screen and an arrow to aim with, this gives the film an almost computer game-like affect.
Another aspect, which ties in with the directors directly targeting a young audience, is the way the films contain spectacular visual affects. In Nikita when the protagonist is left on her first mission, Bob tests her by telling her of an escape route that is infact walled up. When she discovers this she runs towards the kitchen and escapes down rubbish shoot escaping with inches to spare before a bodyguard of the victim shoots a large rocket into the room exploding everything. The language of the films is often colloquial in order to appeal to its younger target audience and sometimes uses English words. When the woman Nikita meets outside a jewelry shop gives her information she then says ‘see you later’ as she leaves and the whole of Besson’s successful film Leon, set in New York, is spoken in English.
In Cinema du look, there is also a cinephile tendency to cite from other films. When Nikita walks up the stairs to see Amande, the surrogate mother figure whose job it is to teach Nikita the art of femininity, we see a shot of her legs. This could be a nod to the films of ruffaut who deliberately focused on women’s legs in order to fragment and fetish them. The use of lighting, blue, green and infrared in the films opening credits also refers back to Jean-Luc Goddard’s symbolic use of filters in the 1963 film Le Mpris.
The films main character, Nikita, is a perfect example of an ‘alienated individual within a fragmented and threatening society’, typical of cinema du look. She is all alone in the world because her friends were killed in the shoot out and at her death by lethal injection she calls out for her mother who isn’t there. Those in authority are portrayed as ruthless for whom morality has no place in their world. Nikita on the other hand evolves into something more than the psychopathic tool her masters thought they had created. She develops into an independent and self-respecting young woman. She will perform the tasks set her but on her own terms. Besson is questioning the nature of society and the place of the individual within that society and showing us just how much potential do we have for growth and development.
The characters in cinema du look films don’t fit into society but then the society depicted is extreme and fictional, with the government assassinating people and the death penalty being reintroduced. As are the actions and reactions of the characters extreme, when Nikita first wakes up in the training centre she tries to escape by hitting Bob over the head with a chair, then to make sure she doesn’t try to escape again he shoots her in the leg.