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Love and Habeas

Anything for Her (2008)

Pour elle_131_31a_jm_leroy
Mars Distribution

The writer and director Fred Cavayé is not a man given to idle dawdling. Within 10 minutes of setting up the perfect Parisian lives of his lead characters in “Anything for Her,” he swiftly tears them apart by having the gendarmes come crashing through their apartment door. Up to this point, the couple – mild-mannered teacher Julien (Vincent Lindon) and his beautiful wife Lisa (Diane Kruger) – were blissfully happy. In spite of having a three-year-old son, they find the time and energy to make love with the enthusiasm of a pair of adolescents but with decidedly more panache. Well, they are French after all.

Lisa finds herself under arrest for murder with her fingerprints on the weapon and the blood on her jacket making it look like an open-and-shut case. Whether or not Lisa is actually guilty of the crime does not really interest Mr. Cavayé too much. He offers us two scenarios in flashback. In one, Lisa caves in the skull of her boss with a fire extinguisher (Mr. Cavayé certainly knows how to win the sympathies of an audience), and in the other she is implicated by sheer chance. The story flashes forward three years with Lisa doing a 20 stretch and all attempts at legal appeal having failed. Following one failed suicide bid, Lisa begins to refuse the insulin she needs to keep her alive.

This pushes Julien into desperate thinking. He seeks out an ex-con-turned-autobiographical author who has collected enough experience in prison breaks to make Papillon look like a mere novice. Julien claims that he wants to teach the jailbird’s book to his pupils – an ability to escape custody may well be a required skill for some modern youngsters – but in actual fact there are other motives behind the meeting. Soon, he is obsessively hatching an escape plan of his own with the aim of breaking Lisa out of jail and taking both her and their son to a new life in South America. While his child sleeps, Julien covers his apartment walls with ideas and information that might help him pull off his audacious scheme.

The great escape requires more than expert planning. There are false papers and new identities to obtain from some extremely dubious sources. This quest leads the teacher into dark and dangerous territories down amongst the thugs and petty thieves of the Parisian underworld, a journey that eventually reveals a darker side to his own psyche. The more Julien becomes involved with the criminal lowlife, the more extreme and out of character his behavior becomes. The warning from his jailbird advisor, that anyone pulling off an escape attempt will need to be a born criminal or else get burned, becomes more a premonition.

“Anything for Her” works so well largely because Mr. Cavayé sneakily decides to keep the exact details of Julien’s plans cloaked in obscurity. There are hints and clues as to what he is up to, but no explicit exposition, helped by the fact that Julien wisely chooses to keep his own family, including his wife, in the dark. When the actual break-out occurs, it is all the more thrilling and nail-chewing for being so revelatory. We are almost as surprised as poor Lisa and considerably more delighted. I especially enjoyed the way that the fugitives pass through a police roadblock with the help of a little online social networking. There is also an overall sense of unease surrounding proceedings so that, unlike more predictable thrillers, one is never quite sure if things are going to turn out for the best.

The film is tight-lipped on whether or not Lisa committed the crime that landed her in the slammer in the first place. In fact, it does not seem to care at all. The important thing is that Julien is so convinced of his wife’s innocence and so in love with her that he goes to such extraordinary lengths and sacrifices everything to try to save her. How much more romantic could you get? Next time your partners complain that you never do anything for them, why not try framing them for murder and then breaking them out a couple of years later. If that does not impress them then frankly it was never meant to be.

“Anything for Her” is a super slick, well-paced debut feature from Mr. Cavayé. The director makes good use of locations, especially the dimly lit haunts of the criminal fraternity which are hung with both an air of menace and a thick cloud of fumes (no smoking ban for these guys). Watching the manner in which Julien initially bumbles his way through the sleazier streets of Paris is both funny and quite unnerving.

Performance-wise, the film rests squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Lindon as Julien. The role requires him to be a lone wolf for whom the rest of the cast provide back-up. Even Ms. Kruger is off-screen and behind bars for much of the film’s running time. The splendidly rugged Mr. Lindon does a wonderful job of going from happy family man to a determined and somewhat ruthless quasi-criminal.

One could carp about the general feasibility of it all and point out that the scenes between Julien and his young son are somewhat mushy, but when the film is this exciting, who cares? Besides, there will no doubt be an English language remake on the way at some point (Russell Crowe as Julien probably) but why not watch this instead so you can boast that the original was so much better.


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