Moving Pictures
Jun 21, 2024, 06:29AM

Frogs: Prepare to Die

Shot Pattern and Black List, two excellent early-1980s French vigilante films recently restored and released by Fun City Editions.

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More fun from Europe, more fun with pulp fiction: you’ve seen all of Godard, Truffaut, Melville, Chabrol—well, maybe not all Chabrol, if you have let me know, and send me about 20 films I’ve missed—but you haven’t seen a film by Alain Bonnot. He directed only two features, 1981’s Une Sale Affaire and 1984’s Liste Noire, or Black List. Lost for years and only recently rediscovered, the James Spader TV show and the other French film called Liste Noire (from 1995) don’t making finding this revenge-matic starring Annie Girardot particularly easy. Just buy the new set from Fun City Editions, packaged with two other contemporary French revenge movies.

Why did it take them 10 years to rip-off Death Wish? Whatever, I’m glad they did, however briefly: the revenge-matic is a genre that bloomed in the 1970s and early-1980s, almost always on the exploitation and drive-in circuit. No wonder their biggest exponent is Quentin Tarantino, who made the revenge film globally popular with his Kill Bill over 20 years ago. After that, it became a lot easier to find films like I Spit on Your Grave, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Rolling Thunder, and even The “Human” Factor (another movie with a common title—this is the one starring George Kennedy from 1975). Cinema’s so young, it’s easy to say to yourself “I’ve seen it all,” but these French crime films are exhilarating.

Do they have the craft of Melville or even Godard at his sloppiest? No—in both Shot Pattern and Black List, there are several jump cuts, and not the kind the world went gaga over in Breathless; rather, these are splices to join two separate takes together mid-shot, or a frame splice from whatever print they sourced these transfers. These movies resemble 1970s American exploitation films in more ways than one. Annie Girardot is going to hunt down and gun down (and even crush to death with a bulldozer) the men who murdered her daughter. The daughter was a patsy in a massive bank robbery, but she and her accomplices were just kids.

The one accomplice who survived helps Girardot in her quest for vengeance, and the lead inspector says, “hands off” and lets her do her thing. He’s reprimanded by a judge at the end in the back of a car, told that he can no longer play jury and replace justice. The judge threatens to “break” him, so he reluctantly turns Girardot in, but when he catches up with her, the turned-good accomplice has escaped, and Girardot ends the film in freeze-frame facing the police: “I’m ready.” The inspector and the judge already agreed that no court will convict a woman avenging her daughter, but they must follow due process regardless.

What a great movie. Everyone evil gets totally fucked up and all the good guys win. Well, not all: Girardot’s longtime co-worker and friend Pierre is a casualty, but his killer is pushed out of a window in slow motion by the turned good accomplice. Every death in this movie is sensational, from the tragic death of Girardot’s daughter in the bank robbery through to all of the gangsters she obliterates in the span of an hour (the daughter’s death really hits because it doesn’t come until half an hour or so in—you get to know her).

Another woman you get to know is the angelic girlfriend in Shot Pattern, introduced with her boyfriend giving her a vintage cameo, and immediately bumped off on the Paris metro by a group of marauding thugs straight out of The Warriors. Shot Pattern isn’t quite as good as Black List, with some distracting camera moves and an interesting but flawed structure: instead of leaving us with just 10 minutes in the beginning with the girlfriend, the movie cuts back to a few flashbacks throughout its 86-minutes, all of which feel like filling time more than anything else. It’s much better that we only see this woman for 10 minutes, and then she’s dead of a broken skull on the floor of a train.

The boyfriend’s revenge isn’t as procedural as Girardot in Black List: he buys a gun as well, and he does follow the killers, but it’s the police who catch up with them eventually, and kill them all—but one. The man who murdered his girlfriend. The bizarre looking thug with a face out of an overheated wax museum, is frog-marched to a police van. No one says anything. The boyfriend never got to use his gun—UNTIL NOW! The movie ends with the boyfriend unloading his vintage 1939 pistol into the guy that killed his girlfriend. Title cards clarify that he was sentenced to seven years in prison, got out on parole in three years, and is now back to his life in the garment district with his friend Felix.

FANTASTIC! Cinematic violence is beautiful, and revenge is even better. John Kidwell recommended these movies to me, along with Supermarkt, and he said Street of the Damned is really the best one. A tall order to fill, but I don’t doubt him.

—Follow Nicky Otis Smith on Twitter and Instagram: @nickyotissmith


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