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Film / Cartouche

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Cartouche is a 1962 French swashbuckler film directed by Philippe de Broca, very loosely based on the life of French 18th century highwayman Louis Dominique Garthausen, also known as "Cartouche", played by Jean-Paul Belmondo.

In early 18th century Paris at the Cour des Miracles, a young thief, Louis Dominique (Belmondo), is 'working' in the gang of crime lord Malichot (Marcel Dalio) but their ways are too 'unethical' for him. He provokes Malichot, flees the Cour des Miracles and joins the army where he makes two new friends, La Taupe (Jean Rochefort) and La Douceur (Jess Hahn). They survive by hiding out on the battlefield, and decide to rob their Marshal of his gold. Fleeing, they stop at an inn where they meet Venus (Claudia Cardinale), a beautiful gypsy girl who has been taken prisoner. They rescue her, Louis Dominique falls in love with her and she joins them.

Louis Dominique then returns to Paris, overthrows Malichot at the head of his gang, starts using the named he styled himself earlier with, "Cartouche" (which means "cartridge" in French), and throws the gang in a series of audacious robberies of the rich people. He decides to distribute a large part of the loot to the poor, which earns him both the sympathies of the people and an intensified track from the Regency police troops, led by Lieutenant general Gaston de Ferrussac (Philippe Lemaire). On top of that, Cartouche gets infatuated with Ferrussac's wife, Isabelle (Odile Versois).

Cartouche provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Venus participates in the robberies and doesn't hesitate to use flintlock pistols. She heads the rescue mission to free Cartouche in the climax, which costs her her life.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: It takes a while but Isabelle de Ferrussac does end up showing she's not indifferent to Cartouche's roguish charms.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Malichot wants to force Venus to marry him.
  • Bad Boss: Malichot keeps most of what his gang steals for himself, treats his thieves like dirt, and doesn't hesitate to use his whip should they contest his authority or keep stolen things for themselves.
  • Bar Brawl: After deserting and stealing the Marshal's money, Louis Dominique, La Taupe and La Douceur spend the night in a tavern. Trouble happens when Louis Dominique decides to free Venus, and later on when the recruiting sergeant tracks them down there.
  • Betty and Veronica: Venus is exotically sensual and hot-tempered, Isabelle is prude.
  • The Big Guy: La Douceur is a force of nature and the strongest of Cartouche's companions.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: La Douceur loves drinking, bragging and throwing himself into a brawl.
  • Book Dumb: La Douceur doesn't know how to write, so the recruiting sergeant makes him draw a cross mark on his army contract.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: La Douceur manages to lift a coach with ease in order to repair the wheel. The combined effort of half a dozen men had trouble doing it beforehand. He also serves as a ram to break the door of the cellar where he, Cartouche and La Taupe are locked in early in the film. When the gang's hideout is invaded, it takes more than a dozen men to subdue him.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Once Cartouche finds out Malichot sold the gang to Ferrussac, he iron-brands the fallen crime lord on his forehead. It also serves as an interrogation mean to find out where La Douceur is detained after his capture by Ferrussac's men.
  • Dark Reprise: Venus' Theme during her funeral
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Isabelle, Rich Bitch after the time jump, Emotionless Girl when she's robbed, starts to fall for Dominique after he robs a sultan for her.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • Louis Dominique, La Taupe and La Douceur end up as soldiers on a battlefield after signing. They quickly realize they don't have much chances of staying alive and decide to hide in a ditch behind trees, and wait till the battle is over. The last two survivors of both sides kill each other with their swords, and all our three protagonists have to do next is to claim the banners and bring them back to their camp, "winning" the battle.
    • Also Petit-Oncle the innkeeper. He's friendly to Cartouche and advises him to escape Malichot by enlisting in the army, but he's mortally scared of Malichot and delivers Venus, Louison and Cartouche's gold to him.
  • Downer Ending: Venus dies rescuing Cartouche, who gives the love of his life a lavish funeral and ends the movie vowing to avenge her, a way that he anticipates will lead him sooner or later to the gallows.
  • Due to the Dead: The funeral of VĂ©nus. Cartouche puts her in a beautiful dress inside a carriage, fills the carriage with riches, then sinks it into a lake.
  • The Fagin: Malichot has all the theft job done by his thieves, from children to young men like Louis Dominique, while doing nothing in the field by himself. He punishes them with his whip if they don't bring enough stolen goods or money to him (or if they hide some for themselves).
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Cartouche stops Malichot from getting mauled by his band of thieves and decides to let him stick around at least until he can stand on his feet. Malichot is not at all grateful and later conspires with Ferrussac to take Cartouche to the gallows. It doesn't end well for Malichot.
  • Fatal Flaw: Cartouche's infatuation with Isabelle de Ferrussac soon has dire consequences for himself and his gang.
  • Force Feeding: Ferrussac has La Douceur tortured by forcing him to drink galons of waters.
  • Gentleman Thief: Cartouche always makes sure the rich women he steals stuff to are treated with good etiquette.
  • Good-Times Montage: After Dominique takes over the gang, a montage shows their success.
  • Guns Akimbo: Cartouche and Venus use two flintlock pistols at the same time on occasion, mostly to intimidate enemies. When they fire them, it's always at very close range since they have only one shot to use in each.
  • He Knows Too Much: Ferrussac throws Malichot in gaol when he realizes Malichot knows which high-ranking civil servants are on Cartouche's payroll.
  • Hot Gypsy Woman: Venus. She's basically a 18th century Expy of Esmeralda. Being played by Claudia Cardinale in her prime greatly helps.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Malichot towards Venus.
  • Idiot Ball: Dominique leaves himself vulnerable for a meeting with Isabelle to prove himself to her, even though his lieutenants warn him against that move.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Ferrussac's soldiers are quite poor shots with their muskets for most of the movie until the ambush at the end, where an officer shoots Venus in the stomach.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Cartouche gives Isabelle a flintlock pistol as part of his seduction attempts. She pulls the trigger... only to find out the gun was not loaded.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Cartouche is introduced stealing a purse to a rich man and giving it to a beggar ( on condition the beggar buys booze with it ). Later on, he is appalled by Malichot, who keeps most of the stolen money and goods for himself and gives next to nothing to his gang. Upon taking the lead of the gang, Cartouche decides they will steal to the richest and share with the poor. Think of a French 18th century Robin Hood in the most romanticized way.
  • King of Thieves: Malichot, initially, who's more akin to The Fagin sort and a Bad Boss. Then Cartouche usurps him and starts ruling as a Benevolent Boss who goes out in the field with his men and shares the spoil fairly instead of doing nothing and keeping everything for himself.
  • Lady in Red: Venus wears mostly red clothes.
  • Lovable Rogue: Cartouche is a textbook example, naturally. He's quite the dashing charmer, and his generosity wins him popular support.
  • Made of Iron: At some point, a soldier breaks a wood plank on La Douceur's head. To no effect.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • "Cartouche" means "cartridge" in French. He always has flintlock pistols on his belt, and uses them whenever shit is about to go down. Flintlock pistols had to be reloaded with black powder cartridges.
    • "La Douceur" means "gentleness". He's quite a Gentle Giant with the people he befriends and trusts.
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie alternates between dashing adventure comedy and more serious moments (such as when the gang's hideout is invaded by soldiers), and finishes on a Downer Ending.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Malichot gets one when Dominique comes to Louison and Venus' rescue and takes over his gang. He doesn't learn from that.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: La Douceur is captured by the men of Gaston de Ferrussac when they raid the Cour des Miracles, and is later tortured and sentenced to death. From the safety of the Secret Underground Passages he and most of his gang are hiding in, Cartouche elaborates a risky plan to rescue La Douceur at the gallows.
  • Public Execution: In classic Ancient Regime fashion, bandits have their limbs broken one by one on a breaking wheel.
  • Rags to Riches: All of Cartouche's gang once they start coordinating under his direction to rob homes of rich people and attack convoys and carriages.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Cartouche towards Isabelle. He goes as far as invading her school for young ladies with his men, visiting her in her room by night and bringing her the treasures and animals he stole to the Ottoman sultan's emissary.
  • Taking the Bullet: Venus. Had she not been in the way, Cartouche would have received a shot in his back.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Cartouche's primary rule when committing robberies is "No murder, and we only attack the richest". Also, he doesn't shoot a terrified Malichot in their first confrontation.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Early in the movie, Isabelle takes pity for Dominique when he's manhandled by Ferrussac's men. Some time later, she's shown to despise the rabble when they threaten to rob her husband.
  • True Blue Femininity: Isabelle usually wears blue clothes and is presented as more proper and prudish than Venus, who's a Lady in Red.
  • Truth in Television: The historical Cartouche was the first to stage carefully coordinated heists. He also had a younger brother called Louison.
  • Undying Loyalty: Even though Venus perfectly knows Cartouche wants to have an affair with Isabelle, she remains remarkably loyal to him and displays no real signs of violent jealousy, up to the point of heading the rescue mission herself, considering herself as his true love. Even La Douceur states that he's going on the rescue mission for her rather than for Dominique, implying that he deserved to get caught.
  • Victory Is Boring: The beginning of the end for Cartouche who, after he takes over the gang, confides to Venus that he can get her everything and no longer finds it fun. Soon after, he encounters Isabelle again...
  • Villain Team-Up: Malichot and Ferrussac team up to take Cartouche's gang down. Malichot personally leads the raiding party on the hideout.
  • We Have Reserves: The Marshal intends to throw his army into another costly battle after the one that left only Cartouche, La Taupe and La Douceur alive. For him it means less men to pay, and it is the main reason why Cartouche and his two new friends decide to steal him the money and desert.
  • Whip of Dominance: Malichot's favorite weapon is a whip, which he uses to subdue Venus when she resists him, and on his own men to assert his authority.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: La Taupe's father may have been a cardinal.
  • Zorro Mark: Cartouche draws a "C" wherever he and his men commit robberies.