Festival Nouveau Cinema 2008: JCVD

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JCVD (dir. Mabrouk El Mechri)
* * * 1/2
One of the year’s most bracing films, Mabrourk El Mechri dark comedy JCVD is likely to divide audiences and critics with its intensely post-modern approach and love-it-or-hate-it commentary on fame, self-worth and pectoral muscles. JCVD stands for the film’s star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the film follows a fictionalized version of Van Damme as he dredges his way through a dreary existence based loosely on the star’s real life. His finances are in ruins (Steven Seagal has cut off his ponytail to steal a role from under his nose), his young daughter provides damning testimony at a custody hearing, and his years as an action star are taking a toll on his dignity and health. When he needs an emergency influx of cash to pay his legal bills, he finds himself caught in a very Dog Day Afternoon-esque heist at a post office. (One goon’s similarity to John Cazale can’t be accidental.) Forget Pascal Laugier’s arty gore flick – Van Damme is the year’s true martyr, willfully and explicitly setting afire his scores of two-dimensional action films and delivering a vulnerable (though admittedly limited) performance as a man tired of playing hero when he feels like a failure. The litmus test for many viewers will be the dramatic moment in which Van Damme obliterates the fourth wall (and the ceiling) to discuss the nature of celebrity, his feelings of inadequacy as a human being, and the nature of the very film you’re watching. Some will feel used and preached to. I, for one, was touched, and when Van Damme’s eyes welled up, I must admit that mine did the same.
Reviews by Simon Howell

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