Sunday, January 31, 2016

Subway (Luc Besson, 1985)

On the surface, this might look like yet another film that features ambiguously European men of European extraction trying to figure out what's going on inside Isabelle Adjani's head at any given moment. But it's not. It's called Subway, and it's directed by Luc Besson, and it stars Jean Reno as a rock drummer, Jean-Hugues Anglade as a roller-skating purse snatcher, Richard Bohringer (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover) as a roving flower salesman, Michel Galabru as a gruff Métro cop and Christopher Lambert as the suavest bleach blonde safecracker this side of Toulouse Lautrec's quivering ball-sack. In other words, if I'm going to watch a movie where a bunch of ambiguously European men of European extraction are bewitched by Isabelle Adjani in the Métro de Paris circa 1985, it's going to be this one. Though, I have to say, it's a good thing Isabelle Adjani's character is played by Isabelle Adjani, or else I would have had a difficult time believing that such a large number of ambiguously European men of European extraction would lose their escargot-soaked minds so thoroughly over a woman. To be fair to all the ambiguously European men of European extraction who appear in this film, it's primarily Christopher Lambert's Fred who uses up the most energy trying to figure out what Isabelle Adjani is thinking.

Now, you would think, given the sheer amount of pure, undiluted sophistication he exudes throughout this movie, that Fred would have a no problem whatsoever figuring out what makes Isabelle Adjani  tick. But not even he can crack this nut. Personally, I would have succumb to his charms the moment I saw his bleach blonde hairdo. That being said, I'm not Isabelle Adjani. (No shit.) What I mean is, Isabelle Adjani is probably the most powerful force in the known universe.

Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. But I'm telling you, don't ever underestimate the power of Isabelle Adjani, especially when she's acting surly and sporting a DIY Iroquois hairdo (more on that in a minute).

It just dawned on me that other than the car chase that opens the film, the majority of the action takes place in the Métro de Paris. In fact...

(I'm really glad that dawned on you and all. But I want to hear more about Isabelle Adjani being all moody and junk with kooky hair.) I thought I'd build to that. In the meantime, maybe I'll talk about how the film manages to create the sense that the world outside doesn't exist and that everything important is taking place in this self-contained subterranean community that lives on the fringes of a once flourishing society. (Fuck that shit, man. You always do that. No, start jibber-jabbering about a cranky, Mohawk-sporting Isabelle Adjani, like, right now.)

I'm afraid I can't do that, unnamed voice in my head. There's more to Subway than Isabelle Idjani's (justifiably) unpleasant attitude and her punky hairstyles. It's sleek and modern. It's arty and new wave. It's funky and fresh. It's stylish and urbane. Let me put it this way. It's the kind of movie that makes you feel cooler for having watched it. And believe me, not a lot of films can say that.

After the aforementioned car chase has concluded, Fred (Christopher Lambert) takes refuge in the Métro de Paris. While down there, he meets all sorts of quirky characters. Even though he's credited as "Le Roller" (the first quirky character Fred meets), Jean-Hughes Anglade's character's name is actually "Jean-Louis." How do I know this? Um, he uses this name when he introduces himself to Isabelle Adjani. Duh. Anyway, with the help of Le Roller, Le Fleuriste (Richard Bohringer) and Le Batteur (Jean Reno), Fred manages to allude the goons who work for Isabelle Adjani's husband and Le Commissaire Gesberg (Michel Galabru), the head of the Métro cops.

The Métro cops want him because he's a thief, while Isabelle Adjani's husband wants back what he stole from his safe. Since Isabelle Adjani's Héléna was the one who invited Fred to the black tie affair at their house the previous night, they figure she's the one most qualified to reason with him. Big mistake, Isabelle Adjani's husband. You don't let your wife hang around a bleach blonde Christopher Lambert in the Métro de Paris circa 1985.

(Okay, I can understand not wanting her to hang out with a bleach blonde Christopher Lambert, and I even get the Métro de Paris thing. But what does 1985 have to do with anything?)

Take a look the people walking through the Métro de Paris. What do you see? That's right, not one man is wearing baggy Adam Sandler-approved shorts with flip-flops. You see, back in 1985, people had self-respect. Oh, sure, people have self-respect nowadays. But these people clearly don't ride the subway. Which reminds me. I've seen things you people wouldn't believe down there. I've seen sweaty tourists in fanny packs. I've seen grown men in beige cargo shorts. I've seen black ankle socks paired with the brownest of sandals. All these moments, unfortunately, won't be lost, in time... like  [chokes up] tears... in... rain.

When Héléna's 10pm meeting with Fred to discuss her husband's "papers" goes badly (one of her husband's goons tries to handcuff him), Fred goes deeper underground. Jumping down onto the tracks, Fred makes his way through the bowels of the Métro de Paris (while the sinister yet beautiful music of Eric Serra throbs on the soundtrack). Still wearing the handcuff one of the goons tried to snag him with, Fred discovers a world unto itself.

Don't worry about the handcuffs dangling from Fred's wrist, Le Roller knows a guy, a guy named Big Bill, who specializes in unwanted handcuff removal.

With the thought of Héléna's black nylon-adorned legs never far from his mind, Fred seems determined to drag this out for as long as possible, as he has, to the surprise of no-one, fallen for the leggy enchantress. The big question is, however, does Héléna feel the same way?

She clearly isn't happy with her husband. But is she willing to jeopardize her cushy existence? If the attitude she displays at a dinner party thrown by some of her husband's annoying friends is any indication, she's definitely open to the idea.

It should go without saying, but Isabelle Adjani's hair during the dinner party fiasco is to die for. Punk chic, anyone?

While the film has some pretty energetic action scenes here and there, and guns are pointed at people in anger every once and awhile, the film is essentially a modern romance, one with, get this, two musical numbers (in an effort to go straight, Fred decides to start a rock band). If you don't believe me, check out the scene where Fred and Le Roller take turns dancing with Héléna in the food court. It's filled with whimsy and tenderness. Which shouldn't come as a surprise, as a lot of Luc Besson's films have moments like this. But still, I wasn't expecting to be so thoroughly moved.

How's this for a fun-fact: The Belgian EBM band à;GRUMH... have a song called "Drama In The Subway," and Jean Reno's Le Batteur character reminded me of SΔ3 Evets, à;GRUMH...'s founder. [Special thanks to Digital Orc and Keenan at Eyesore Cinema for recommending this movie.] Film Review Links, A-Z


  1. Saw this one years ago...I remember thinking it was some sort of artsy fartsy sci-fi/*fantasy film because of that poster with Lambert holding that lightsaber looking light on his hand. I want to rewatch this one see what I make of it today, I bet I'll appreciate it on a whole other level.

  2. Oh, I'm so glad I was reminded of you're blog! I've been neglectful of my own, and blogger in general. This one's Ben in my peripheral vision for a while, after your review, I'm making it a priority. "The brownest of sandals" lol.

    Are you by chance on Letterboxd?

    1. Thanks for prioritizing this dumpy corner of the internet.

      I'm only vaguely familiar with Letterboxd... so, no, I am not.

    2. I would recommend it for selfish reasons but it also keeps me from my own blog a bit becaus Its sooo fun.

    3. One of the first movies I looked up on Letterboxd was The Dark Backward. And wouldn't you know it, the first review is by someone called "Scumbalina." :D

    4. Kudos for watching/experiencing Showgirls 2. There's never been anything quite like it.

      Oh, and your "Neon Boogers" list is awesome.

    5. I didn't see this comment before but I just read YOUR Showgirls 2 review and was going to say something similar! No movie left me with a stranger feeling last year than that. It is now my goal in life to see everything with Rena Riffel's name attached to it. That lead me to a very disappointing viewing of Striptease, but Rena was the same, bobbed as ever.

      Your blog is more Neon Booger than my own, thank you for doing the lords work!!