In recent years Samuel Le Bihan has become a strong presence in many movies but here becomes the central figure, Dris, a rugged, charismatic man whose virile image masks a weak character. Fresh out of prison and promising his loyal wife, Lise (Marie Guillard), to go straight, he has taken a menial job loading trucks at a produce market.
Dris, who behind bars learned to value human life, means well, but he is dogged by his cousin Yanis (Samy Naceri), who has a possessive passion for Dris that makes Paul Muni's lust for his own sister Ann Dvorak in 1932's "Scarface" pale in comparison. Manic in the extreme, Yanis is determined to become a kingpin in the Paris underworld and believes fervently that he needs Dris at his side to pull off an elaborate and lucrative heist. Dris yields to his cousin's invitation to a couple of evenings out on the town with the gang, which weakens his resistance, especially when Nina (Clotilde Courau), his former lover and a gorgeous Gypsy, turns on her charms full force. Inevitably, Dris gives in to their persuasion.
Director Manuel Boursinhac and co-writer Bibi Naceri (Samy's brother) bring alive a shadowy, ultra-violent world of racy clubs, dark alleys and a labyrinthine entanglement of ever-shifting underworld alliances and rivalries. That Dris' younger brother Mel (David Saracino) is a hotshot car thief eager to get into dealing drugs quickly complicates matters.
The atmospheric, richly detailed "La Mentale" has terrific vitality with its volatile mixture of alternating camaraderie and savagery.
The seductive Nina — who lives in a trailer in a traditional-style Gypsy encampment, complete with horses — is a skilled thief and professional temptress yet in the morning dons a chic Chanel-like business suit and goes off to work.
The galvanic Naceri reveals Yanis to be a psychopath of escalating rages and ruthlessness yet could not be a more loving son to his ailing father and fragile mother, who is played by Edith Scob, star of Georges Franju's classic "Eyes Without a Face." Le Bihan shows Dris to be a man who has developed a conscience in prison but is ensnared by traditional bonds to his brother and his cousin.
In what is only his second feature — the first has the tempting title of "Un Pur Moment de Rock 'n' Roll" — Boursinhac has blended all these elements with mesmerizing imagination and energy.
MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, language and sexuality
Times guidelines: Far too violent for children
Samuel Le Bihan...Dris
A Columbia TriStar release of a Samuel Goldwyn Films presentation. Director Manuel Boursinhac. Producer Alain Goldman. Screenplay by Bibi Naceri and Boursinhac. Cinematographer Kevin Jewison. Editor Hélène de Luze. Music Thierry [Titi] Robin. Costumes Marlène Aouat, Claire Gerard-Hirne. Production designer Nikos Meletopoulos. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.
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