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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 historical crime/action film directed by Jean-François Richet (director of Mesrine) and written by Eric Besnard.

At the time of the Napoleonic Empire in 1805, Eugène-François Vidocq (Vincent Cassel) is a convict whose multiple escapes 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.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Vidocq is constantly given crap over his criminal past by the law enforcement, while in the same time criminals take him for a snitch.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: Vidocq hates being called a snitch, for it undermines his entire merit and implies he's just an informer, rather than a cop. Eventually he has an angry outburst, getting inside an arrest cell and asks the locked criminals who did he ever betrayed.
  • 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.
  • Bloodstained Glass Windows: The final confrontation takes place inside a church.
  • 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: Zig-Zagged. M. Henry, the prefect of police, accuses Dubillard of being this, for he really lacks of results compared to Vidocq and is easily duped in few set-ups. However the film shows him being just as competent, and the main difference between him and Vidocq is their level of motivation, rather than ability or skills.
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Guy: The duke of Neufchâteau and Joseph Fouche.
  • Dramatic Irony: de Wenger first saved Annette from Maillard's men, only to personally strangle her few weeks later.
  • 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.
  • Enemy Mine: Initially, de Wenger and Vidocq have a shared enemy in form of Maillard, a top prisoner in the penal colony all three of them were locked in.
  • Escape Artist: Vidocq managed to escape penal colonies more than once.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: Nathanael de Wenger takes over the criminal underworld after Vidocq's action weakened Maillard's gang, making him an easy pick for de Wenger's men - in front of Vidocq, in a show-off execution.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Joseph Fouch&eacute says it verbatim when he meets Vidocq in person for the first time.
  • 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 Napoléon 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.
  • It's Personal: At least part of Vidocq's initial drive to take down Maillard and his criminal empire comes from when they were both doing time in the same prison and Maillard ordered Vidocq's execution there.
  • King of Thieves: Maillard rules over Paris' criminal underworld until he's killed, then Nathanael de Wenger replaces him.
  • 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.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Neufchâteau is a former duke, who lost his title and all his lands during The French Revolution. Yet when asked why he's then wearing an Imperial hussar uniform, he proudly announces that it doesn't matter if it's Monarchy, Republic or the Empire, for he's serving France first and foremost.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Vidocq struggles under his infamy as a known criminal and Escape Artist. Despite genuinely clearing his act and wanting nothing to do with the criminal underworld, just about everyone thinks he's still "in" and either tries to get him back into some jobs or blame him for someone's else fresh crimes.
  • 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. The film still takes a nod toward this, showing that when he wants to, Dubillard can be just as competent at gathering intel and following suspects without rising suspicion - Vidocq is visibly shocked he was found so easily in the finale.
  • Posse: Vidocq recruits several people to help him take down the Parisian underworld.
  • Rags to Riches: The baroness of Giverny is a former prostitute who worked her way towards 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.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The brigade Vidocq creates with people he trusts includes the Escape Artist Vidocq himself is; 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.
  • "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.
    • Once his son gets killed, Neufchâteau's entire drive is to flat-out wipe out Nathanael de Wenger and his gang. This becomes a dilemma in the finale, when they accidentally stumble upon the guy who killed Charles, but must maintain their cover for as long as possible without rising alarm. Eventually the duke just smirks to Vidocq, they exchange knowing nods and Neufchâteau is allowed to chase his personal vengeance.
  • Riches to Rags: Neufchâteau was once a duke with a massive land holding. Then The French Revolution happened. As far as he's personally concerned, he's still well-off, given he's alive and doing his "noblesse obliged" job of being a soldier for France. Moreover, he has a valid chance of restoring his title and at least part of former wealth under the Imperial regime.
  • Sadist: Crime boss Maillard is a nasty piece of work who delights in seeing 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, the Eiffel Tower wouldn't be built until over 80 years later for instance).
  • 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.
  • Sixth Ranger: Dubillard joins Vidocq and Neufchâteau in the finale to take down Nathanael de Wenger.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: When one of his mooks is busy beating the crap out of Annette, a clearly amused Nathanael de Wenger is munching an apple - one he took from Vidocq's pantry.
  • 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 around 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 proceeds to fight his way through everyone that comes after him. When held in a deadlock by the killer of his son and knowing already he won't make it alive, Neufchâteau impales himself on his own sabre, but also taking the killer grappling him.
  • Throw-Away Guns: This being early 19th century and guns being single-shot flintlocks, various characters throughout the whole story drop their own guns and dive for a still unfired gun of whoever they've just killed. Most notably, Vidocq and Dubillard each start with two pistols each during the climax, and then go through another set of four pistols from the hapless perps they've just shot.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The young thief shown early on returns in the finale. When Neufchâteau has first time any sort of qualms and sets the kid free, he pays him back by not only stabbing him with a knife, but twisting it around two times to make sure the wound is fatal. And then he gets away with it, still being set free by his victim.
  • 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.
  • We Used to Be Friends: At least as far as Nathanael de Wenger is concerned, he and Vidocq are friends who saved each other when in prison and during escape from it. Vidocq doesn't share the sentiment, which eventually leads to mutual hostilities after refusing de Wenger's offer to join him in the criminal underworld.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Generally nobody has any sort of qualms when it comes to hurting or even killing women - and doing it in the most straightforward way, too. As the baroness of Giverny found out the hard way, not even status protect her from being hit in the face.
  • Wretched Hive: The slums of Paris, with all the thieves, murderers, gangs, prostitutes and the like.