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The Slight Return of Gilles Mimouni

And I have seen the second film by Gilles Mimouni, and it was not good—but its very existence fills me with hope.
 
If you don’t know the name Gilles Mimouni and you are even slightly interested in films, then you are morally required to stop reading this and immediately watch L’Appartement. Mimouni’s debut is a beguiling, tricksy, twisty-turny romantic thriller with a coolly assured style and confidence. It marked Mimouni out as a writer-director to watch—which is unfortunate for the watchers, because then he disappeared.

L’Appartement is not an incredibly well-known movie, despite winning a BAFTA (good) and a Hollywood remake (bad) but its allure is such that, five or six years after I first saw it, I met two other people who remembered the same seminal late-night screening on Channel 4. Those who have seen it tend to rave about it; many also wonder, from time to time, whatever happened to one-hit-wonder Mimouni.
 
The script had a huge impact on my writing, with freewheelin’ love and lust confused and explored within a detective story template. It’s full of dreamy iconography like hotel room keys, red shoes and a single rose licked by flames. There are Hitchcockian staples like obsession and mistaken identity—in a nice touch, the two leading ladies’ names, Alice and Lisa, are syllabic inversions. The film subtly recalls Vertigo, but I wouldn’t consider it hyperbolic to say that L’Appartement is the better film.

L’Appartement introduced Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci to each other, and they quickly formed their generation’s most beautiful on- and off-screen couple.
 
The film also sparked my love for French cinema. More than the Truffaut and Godard and Jeunet & Caro I’d already seen, this one clicked with my sensibilities—probably because of the amateur detective stuff. Over the years my long-play videotape (L’Appartement sandwiched between Tremors and Sea of Love) was replaced by an Artificial Eye DVD which then became part of an induction program for new girlfriends, along with my shitty poetry and awesome homecooked haggis stir-fry

From time to time I had reason to return to IMDb and check if anybody, anywhere, had any clue what the fuck Mimouni was doing. In 2010, thirteen years into his vanishing act, I came across this blog which names a few stalled follow-up projects, two of which—a Cassel-starring spy thriller called The Pretender and a mistaken-identity swashbuckler called The Swedish Cavalier—are mouthwatering prospects.
 
Mimouni re-emerged briefly in 2004 as the “executive producer” of Wicker Park, my fellow countryman Paul McGuigan’s remake of L’Appartement. But given the botched ending I suspect that Mimouni was at best a silent executive producer and more likely just someone who signed a bit of paper one time that allowed Hollywood to spew forth their perfunctory adaptation.
 
Around this time there were rumours he was directing ads and/or music videos in France. While fact-checking this essay I also noticed this extra 2010 credit on IMDb, which I swear wasn’t there when I started writing. It’s for an hour-long documentary, part of a TV series called Il était une fois (“Once upon a time”) with which I am unfamiliar.
 
Finally my wife and I came across Mimouni’s second film by accident. We often mainline a bit of French culture through TV5 Monde, and two minutes into a TV movie called 1, 2, 3 Voleurs (“thieves”) I sat bolt-upright on the sofa (which is not easy on my sofa) as the name Gilles Mimouni appeared on screen. Not only had he co-written this film, he directed it too! Jesus Christ, I said, before boring my wife with an abridged version of the diatribe you’ve just read.
 
1, 2, 3 Voleurs was produced in 2011 and stars Isabelle Carré and Nicolas Cazalé. Cazalé plays the driver of an armoured truck who makes off with its payload on a whim, and is pursued not only by a couple of cops (including Reda Kateb from the second season of Spiral) but a gang of would-be robbers who also had their eye on the truck and, perhaps controversially, consider the loot theirs. Carré, playing Cazalé’s girlfriend, is caught in the middle of all this.

It’s heartbreaking to report that the film is neither very good nor very memorable. It’s a bit like Orson Welles following up Citizen Kane with an episode of Columbo. There are a few Mimouni hallmarks: the carefully framed, just off-centre close-ups are one; the bold, abrupt musical cues are another, though perhaps overdone here. The focus switches midway through the story, from the male to the female lead, as it did in L'Appartement.
 
All of this supports that messy writer’s credit at the beginning: scénario by Gregory Baranes, adaptation by Natalie Carter & Gilles Mimouni and Gregory Baranes. I would bet my grandmother’s last £100 that Mimouni came late to the party and fucked at least a little bit with the DJ’s playlist. The result is probably only just recognisably un film de Mimouni, and to be honest, given that he was once considering spy thrillers and swashbucklers, it’s hard to see what drew him to the project.
 
But the reason 1, 2, 3 Voleurs fills me with hope is that the amazing disappearing film-maker has finally reappeared. Which means that he is not only still alive, but still capable of making another goddamn film.
 
Based on a hunch and intelligent guesswork, I choose to believe that 1, 2, 3 Voleurs was, for Mimouni, a combination of bill-paying and getting-back-in-the-game. It logically follows that he wants to get back in the game not to make TV movie bill-payers but to make a proper film. Thank Christ: the prodigal son has returned.

Originally published 31 July 2013

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