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Film / The Emperor of Paris

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The Emperor of Paris (L'Empereur de Paris) is a 2018 French film directed by Jean-François Richet (director of Mesrine) and written by Eric Besnard.

During the Napoleonic Empire in 1805, Eugène-François Vidocq (Vincent Cassel) is a convict whose multiples evasions from penal colonies became the stuff of legend in the Parisian underworld. One day, he is caught, and, as he's about to be condemned to death, makes the police prefect of Paris an offer: he can use his vast knowledge of the underworld to help them arrest criminals, and they will spare him the guillotine in exchange. They accept, and Vidocq then creates a brigade of his own with people he trusts. His spectacular results soon start showing, and they soon make him a primary target for the criminal networks.

The cast also includes Olga Kurylenko as the Baroness of Giverny, Freya Mavor as Annette, Denis Ménochet as Dubillard, August Diehl as Nathanael de Wenger, James Thierrée as the Duke of Neufchâteau, Fabrice Luchini as Joseph Fouché and Denis Lavant as Maillard.


There was a previous French film about the protagonist, 2001's Vidocq, which was set later in time (in 1830) and unabashedly veered into the supernatural, while The Emperor of Paris aims at staying grounded in reality and truer to the character's history, even with some obvious fictionalization.

The Emperor of Paris provides examples of:

  • The Alcatraz: The prison ship in Toulon.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Annette, Vidocq's girlfriend, ends up victim of Nathanael de Wenger as he builds his criminal empire and ruthlessly has Vidocq and his brigade attacked.
  • Badass Crew: Vidocq puts together a team to fight against the criminal underworld of Paris much like Eliot Ness does in The Untouchables.
  • Badass Longcoat: Vidocq wears a longcoat during his life as a cloth merchant after escaping the prison ship, and he's pretty good at fighting when he's not ambushed. He wears a more expensive and cleaner black longcoat once he works for the Brigade de Sûreté.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: Crime boss Nathanael de Wenger is eventually killed, but everyone from Vidocq's brigade is dead bar Vidocq himself, including his love Annette. He is refused his pardon letter yet again by Fouché, who has "great projects" for him. The narration mentions that Vidocq would get his pardon in 1818 eventually.
  • Black Widow: The baroness of Giverny (a former prostitute who worked her way to a much higher social status) is implied by Vidocq to have killed her husband, the baron of Giverny, who was found dead in his bed.
  • Boxed Crook: Vidocq risks being condemned to death after he is recognized and caught, but offers to use his knowledge of the criminal underworld to serve the police.
  • Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: The bodyguard of the baroness of Giverny is a Mamluk. He was most likely part of Napoleon's Imperial Guard's regiment of Mamluks at some point before serving Giverny.
  • Clueless Detective: M. Henry, the prefect of police, accuses Dubillard of being this, for he really lacks of results compared to Vidocq.
  • Cool Guns: Dubillard uses a gun with no less than four barrels in the climax. And he manages to kill three of Wenger's mooks in one shot with it.
  • Dwindling Party: Everyone in Vidocq's ace brigade bar Vidocq himself and Dubillard (who joins him and the duke during the climax) gets killed as the story progresses. By order of death, Courtaux, Charles, Annette, and eventually the duke of Neufchâteau.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The film is set in Paris. Several landmarks appear : the main poster features the Notre-Dame cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe is being built, and Vidocq passes by the Louvre at one point. The film's closing scene gives a distant view on the Panthéon.
    • Notre-Dame can be seen on the poster, but not in the film itself.
  • Escape Artist: Vidocq managed to escape penal colonies more than once.
  • Historical-Domain Character :
    • Eugène-François Vidocq, one of the most famous cops in French history and a prime example of Boxed Crook.
    • Joseph Fouché, the French Minister of Police in 1815.
    • Towards the end, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte himself makes a short appearance as he leaves the office of Fouché just as Vidocq is waiting outside of it in the hope of obtaining his pardon letter. Vidocq is hilariously befuddled.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The duke of Neufchâteau is fatally wounded by Wenger's mooks in the climax but keeps fighting. One of them attacks him from behind, an he then takes his saber and runs himself and the mook through with it.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The duke of Neufchâteau has seen the republic confiscate his properties as part of the abolition of privileges during The French Revolution.
  • Make Way for the New Villains: Nathanael de Wenger invites Vidocq to a market hoping to make him a Dirty Cop favorable to his nascent criminal empire. As a gift, he has the dreaded crime boss Maillard assassinated at said market. Vidocq doesn't accept to become a dirty cop, and Wenger starts a war against him. Wenger is later shown having taken Maillard's place as "emperor" of the criminal underworld.
  • Master Swordsman: The duke of Neufchâteau is an expert at saber wielding.
  • Nice Hat: Many characters wear either top hats or Girondin hats. Vidocq wears a black top hat when working as a cloth merchant, and a more expensive one once he quits being a cloth merchant to become a cop.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Wenger's mooks ambush the duke of Neufchâteau and kill his son. He gets angry at Vidocq for this at first, then follows Vidocq in his hunt for Wenger for his own Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Contrary to what M. Henry might think, Dubillard is a competent policeman by the standards of the time. The problem is that he is being compared to Vidocq, the man who practically invented modern police work.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The brigade Vidocq creates with people he trusts includes the Escape Artist Vidocq is himself; Courtaux, a drunk former criminal with republican convictions; the duke of Neufchâteau, a royalist Impoverished Patrician who became a hussar; the latter's young soldier son Charles; and Annette, a Bonapartist former prostitute doubling as a thief and Vidocq's girlfriend. Henry hangs a big lampshade on this at one point.
  • Rags to Riches: The baroness of Giverny is a former prostitute who worked her way to a much higher social status. According to Vidocq, she is also a Black Widow who killed her last husband, the baron of Giverny, to inherit his titles and wealth.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Vidocq gives a speech to a cell full of criminals that he had arrested, telling them that at least he never sold anyone out (prior to becoming a Boxed Crook, at least). And he doesn't do it behind the bars for protection, he goes into the cell for this. Amazingly, the convicts don't Zerg Rush him.
  • Revenge: Vidocq's main motivation to become a Boxed Crook outside of buying his pardon letter is to get revenge on criminals who either tried to kill him, sold him out or tried to blackmail him into getting involved in criminal activities.
  • Sadist: Crime boss Maillard is a nasty piece of work who delights in seing others suffer.
  • Scenery Porn: There are some beautiful wide shots over a reconstructed 19th century Paris. Those that stand out the most are the Arc de Triomphe being built, and the film's ending scene, a tracking shot as Vidocq leaves the Hôtel des Invalides. It pans over the Invalides' roof and gives a view of Paris with the Panthéon standing out in the background (as it's one of the only famous landmarks of Paris that could be included without committing Anachronism Stew).
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Throughout the story, the Baroness engages in blatant influence peddling, as she takes massive bribes to use her connections to Minister of Police Fouché to get favors done for third parties. It is implied that this is how Maillard got his pardon.
  • Shout-Out: There is a joke about La Comédie Humaine, which is Honoré de Balzac's main creation. Vidocq inspired one of its characters.
  • Spiritual Successor: The film borrows quite a bit to The Untouchables, except it's set in early 1800s France.
  • Take That!: Fouché mentions how he will end up giving the Légion d'Honneur to anybody. There is a similar joke in France since about the end of the 20th century, more precisely since artists, entertainers, foreign leaders (a sign often perceived as corruption) and other kinds of people who didn't serve France in a way Napoléon intended when creating the award can be awarded with it.
  • Taking You with Me: The duke of Neufchâteau is out for a Roaring Rampage of Revenge on Wenger's mooks in the climax as they killed his son. Unfortunately, a prostitute who was sleeping with them wakes up and screams just as he was about to slit some throats, and a fight ensues. He gets shot in his stomach and gets stabbed, but he damn sure doesn't give up and the mooks all end up dead before himself dies.
  • Throw-Away Guns: Vidocq and Dubillard each have two pistols during the climax so they can have two shots instead of one, as pistols of the time were flintlock and took way too long to reload mid-fight.
  • Villainous Rescue: Annette is rescued from the men Maillard sent to kill her by the timely intervention of Wenger, the ultimate Big Bad of the movie.
  • Wretched Hive: The slums of Paris, with all the thieves, murderers, gangs, prostitutes and the like.


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