I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster

I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Containing more quirk per minute than your average "crime" comedy. Samuel Benchetrit's I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster plays out with the sort of deadpan, slightly absurd existential humour and smooth style of a Jim Jarmusch film (it would make an excellent companion piece to Coffee And Cigarettes) while having a uniquely French spring in its step.

Shot in sharp black and white, much of the action takes place in a diner on the outskirts of Paris - an unlikely magnet for hapless criminals. We see several of their stories as their paths cross, rather than mix. As with all but the very best of this sort of multi-narrative film, some of the tales are more lightweight than others, although fortunately, the weakest point of the film comes part way through, leaving it time to rally.

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The first segment, set in the diner itself, concerns a would-be hold-up merchant Gino (Edouard Baer), whose credentials as a criminal mastermind are clearly limited, since he doesn't even manage to cross the car park to the diner door without injuring himself. Still, he presses on regardless with his 'fingers in pocket' mime of a gun, little knowing that the young waitress (Anna Mouglalis) is fresh from her own recent attempts at petty theft, the details of which and the ensuing fallout are used to bookend the film.

The second story is the most self-contained of the four on offer and also provides the most in terms of laughs - although there is a decent serving of humour throughout the entire film. It concerns a pair of first-time kidnappers (Bouli Lanners and Serge Larivière) who are intending to get out of financial difficulty by raising some quick cash courtesy of a rich man's teenage daughter Malaury (Selma El Mouissi)... the only problem being that she is suicidal. Surprisingly touching as well as funny, it's a shame that the film dips off quite dramatically in the next, rather dull, segment concerning two ageing rock stars and an age-old spat. The humour here comes from the fact the two men are played by real-life musicians Alain Bashung and Arno. Although they are clearly having a lot of fun sending themselves up Extras-style, much of the comedy relies on you bringing a knowledge of the pair to the situation and so may fall flat outside of the film's homeland.

Before coming full circle back to Gino and the waitress, Benchetrit finds time to hit some more absurdist highs courtesy of a gang of elderly crooks (including familiar French faces Jean Rochefort, Laurent Terzieff and Venantino Venantini) who swoop on a hospital to kill their sick old friend (Roger Dumas). As with all the other stories here, however, there is a lot more to this 'life and death' decision than meets the eye.

Benchetrit keeps a firm hand on the tiller, despite some of the film's more wild flights of fancy - including a perfectly pitched homage to silent film. His directorial decisions stem from serving the humour and his sly sideswipe at notions of growing old and human transcience rather than an attempt to show how clever he is and although the film has a fluffiness that means it is unlikely to linger long in the memory, it is nevertheless a fun ride.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2009
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I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster packshot
Existential comedy told in four vignettes linked by a roadside cafe.
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Director: Samuel Benchetrit

Starring: Sergi López, Jean Rochefort, Alain Bashung, Anna Mouglalis

Year: 200

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: France


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