Fred Cavaye’s new film gives us a Parisian’s version of Hitchcock, in which an ordinary man of reasonably good moral life gets swept into a maelstrom of suspense drawn tighter because our hero is being desperately sought by both criminals and police. Though the title is unfortunately imprecise — this is not a remake of John Boorman’s extravagantly stylish 1967 thriller — the pace and plotting provide pleasurable adrenal jolts from beginning to end in the tale of a night shift nurse named Samuel (Gilles Lellouche) who’s drawn into apparent political intrigue after foiling an attempt to murder one of his patients. Returning home to his beautiful pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anaya), their lovey-dovey idyll is violated, Samuel knocked out and Nadia forcibly transported to an icky-wet cold storage building for ransom. For the rest of the film, Samuel runs a deadly gamut of corruption, reversals, and ingenious close calls.
But it is Cavaye’s minute mastery of the medium that really works us. Each shot of Nadia is calculated to intensify the sense of her abandonment to fate. We see her shivering and small inside the giant darkness of the warehouse. Meanwhile Samuel’s decency is caught inside grids and webs, beating up against tight double frames (literally and pictorially). Cavaye turns the screw, too, bringing Samuel into awkward comradeship with a violent (though principled) safecracker named Hugo (Raschdy Zem). After a bad attempt to reform Hugo, Samuel gets to savor a satisfying taste of thuggish vengeance.
Cavaye is the master thief. Not long ago Hollywood directors like Ford, Hitchcock, and Hawks inspired French directors to spellbind audiences while remaining personalized with little brainy flourishes. Cavaye samples them all, and even throws in a little dash of Fritz Lang in to make the movie funny-scary. Sure, it’s not insanely original, but young American directors should pay attention all the same. Our movies would be more fun if they were as relentlessly exciting as this movie about a male nurse running for his life down the mean streets of Paris.