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Retrospective Film Review: Luc Besson’s Nikita

Sunday 05 April 2015
Words Ailis Mara

The irony is, of course, in Raphaël Bassan’s pejorative labelling of Besson’s artfulness as cinéma du look, an aesthetic that favours form over content, that his 1990 movie La Femme Nikita, slick and glossy as it is, still moves and elicits more than the routine cardio-thrills typical of its genre.

That is pretty much down to its extraordinary cast – an ensemble who commit way beyond the film’s limited parameters. From Jean Reno’s laconic cleaner (a character enhanced and softened for Besson’s Léon: The Professional four years later), to Jeanne Moreau’s graceful and sophisticated government governess Amande, who schools Nikita in the deadly art of seduction (Moreau’s presence also smartly bridges the cultural cinematic gap between the nouvelle vague and Bassan’s so-labelled movement – a kind of nouvelle nouvelle vague), and Bob (Tchéky Karyo) and Marco’s (Jean Hugues-Anglade) intoxication for Nikita herself, the former torn between governmental duty and admiration at her revolutionary spirit, and the latter’s gentle affections at how she might catalyse his ambition and desire for fully-invested intimacy.

But obviously, it is Nikita herself whom we must fall in love with. Anne Parillaud never found the same kind of success after Nikita and it’s no doubt a great shame. Her character arc may be something lifted plainly from a fairytale, but her journey from junkie, to naive killer, to realist is articulately conceived with much skill and genuine resonance. A foregone conclusion then that Besson’s kinetic set-pieces push all the right buttons, as ever his art director’s eye never failing genuinely arresting lighting and framing decisions, but Nikita has real soul too, not least a heroine who is neither overtly sexualised nor androgynised to the point of anonymity, but rather is allowed to run the full gamut of complex femininity.