96 Minutes // Belgium-France // Samsa Films-Gaumont
dir. Mabrouk El Mechri
Thursday, September 4th, 2008. Ryerson Theater.
North American Premiere @ the 33rd Annual Toronto International Film Festival
starring: Jean Claude Van Damme, François Damiens & Zinedine Soualem
Jean Claude Van Damme’s latest surprises critics. JCVD, directed by Mabrouk El Mechri, is one of the few times you’ll ever hear-tell of a spectacular Jean Claude Van Damme film from respectable critics.
JCVD – aptly titled after the central focus of the film, Jean Claude Van Damme – is a story about a struggling father, a crime gone right and a town full of love for their Belgian hero.
The story is written by collaborators Frederic Benudis, Mabrouk El Mechri (also the aforementioned director) & Christophe Turpin (but you have to figure Jean Claude had a hand in the writing too) and they do a great job meshing a comedic biography and a high tension thriller together in this self parody. Their dialogue is beyond believable – a very hard accomplishment with such absurd scenarios.
The film is about a financially strapped Jean Claude Van Damme (played by Jean Claude Van Damme) who returns to Belgium to get a sensation of ecstasy, tranquility and euphoria in his birth country. Upon his arrival he receives none of the above. Fans ridiculously pester (“Take a picture with me” – “My grandma loves you too, can you wait here and take a picture with her as well?”) and agents toy around and jeer with poor Jean Claude; it appears that nothing will go his way.
Opening on an eight minute, single take faux fight scene was both well crafted and entertaining, giving the film one of the most pleasant openings of the year – no matter how gritty the camera styling of Pierre-Yves Bastard is.
After a meeting and greeting with a few fans, Jean Claude goes into a local bank to withdraw money so he can pay his divorce lawyer’s fees; his fans anxiously wait for his return. Upon finding out that the bank has “no money” Jean Claude throws a tantrum and verbally berates the clerk. Little does he know the bank is being held under hostage because of an ensuing robbery taking place in the backrooms. Jean Claude finds out about the situation and in an attempt to help gets captured as another hostage. Having only seen Jean Claude go into the bank and having only heard shots fired, the fans waiting at the convenience store across the street become alarmed. They begin to think Jean Claude Van Damme is robbing a bank. Rather than being opposed to such an action they being to root him on. This eventually escapades to epic proportions.
There is a revelation about three quarters through the film. For about five minutes, Jean Claude Van Damme pours his soul out on the screen. In one emotionally drenched take, Jean Claude retells his life in Hollywood and the mindset of actors, especially in the 80’s. Jean Claude’s worn down face was the key to this scene making the performance. His soul was apparent in his look. It was haunting and really put life into perspective. Not relative to the main plot, but an important scene not to be forgotten.
Jean Claude Van Damme’s performance as himself is generating a lot of love as of now, especially from myself. His riveting performance as a distraught, lonely man is one to remember and is certainly the highlight of his career, even though this performance was given postmortem and will be seen as the resurrection of his career. His sarcastic, deadpan humor combined with his flagrant old school flamboyance results in a spectacle that all should see – whether you be a Bloodsport fan or not. ***/****