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Film / Vidocq

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Vidocq is a 2001 French supernatural period thriller directed by Jean-Christophe Comar, better known as Pitof. It is notable for being the very first film shot entirely with a digital camera (and a very crazy one at that).

In 1830 Paris, as the July Revolution looms in the horizon, former Sûreté officer now working as private detective Eugène François Vidocq (Gérard Depardieu) disappears after tracking down and fighting a mysterious killer with a mirror mask known as "The Alchemist". Vidocq's biographer Etienne Boisset (Guillaume Canet) then starts tracking his movements, while the Alchemist tracks his and murders witnesses along the way.

For a more grounded cinematic take on Vidocq's life, see The Emperor of Paris.

This film has the examples of:

  • Acrofatic: The title character is quite agile, in spite of his thick belly, and has a couple nice savate kicks.
  • Ambiguous Gender: The Alchemist's gender is left ambiguous for a good part of the film. His fighting style reminds of She-Fu, and female sighs and giggles are uttered during the fights. At the end, however, he is proved to be a man.
  • Badass Cape: The Alchemist's hooded cape is so badass that physics are barely a suggestion to it.
  • Badass Normal: Although he is not at the physical level of the eternally young and physics-defying Alchemist, Vidocq is able to hold his own quite well against him. Of course, once the Alchemist is Brought Down to Normal Vidocq hands him his ass on a platter.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bordering Downer Ending at that. Nimier is killed, the Alchemist is implied to be alive and free, and even Lautrennes will be probably executed in the July Revolution. The only thing that keeps it from being All for Nothing is that Vidocq and the French police now know the Alchemist's nature and will be presumably more effective the next time they face him.
  • Character Title: The film named after Vidocq, who is gone before the opening credits roll.
  • Confusion Fu: Due to his flowing robe and strange motions, it's not easy at all to distinguish The Alchemist's movements during the fights, something which he capitalizes to land hits on Vidocq in sucession.
  • Dance Battler: The Alchemist's fighting style resembles capoeira at some points, in contrast with the more stern savate practised by Vidocq.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Preah has a rather... interesting way of interacting with Etienne. She's never rude toward him, but in the same time it doesn't stop her from constant small acts of mischievousness and verbal banter.
  • The End... Or Is It?: As the characters are walking away from the graveyard at the end of the film, someone is shown spying on them from inside a crypt with light reflecting from a mirrored surface, implying the Alchemist has survived.
  • Fan Disservice: The brothel scenes are one step away from pure Squick due to their vulgar nature and very aggressive form of advertising. And then of course there is the drunk orgy prepared to drug the virgins - all young teens - for the Alchemist.
  • Fanservice: The flashback covering Vidocq and Preah having a picnic, culminating with him undressing her costume, which was already barely covering anything at all.
  • The Foreign Subtitle: The film is known as Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidocq in English-speaking countries and Vidocq: The Myth in Spain.
  • Genius Bruiser: Vidocq. Large, strong, surprisingly fast, manages to hold his own in fights against supernaturally-empowered foe, has a crime lab Batman would be proud of had he lived in the 1830's, and is the father of modern criminal science.
  • Giggling Villain: The Alchemist giggle several times while fighting Vidocq in the flashbacks.
  • Guttural Growler: Vidocq grunts heavily all the time while fighting.
  • Historical Domain Character: Eugène Vidocq, who was the very first private detective in France.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Happens quite literally to Vidocq's partner Nimier in the climactic fight. He shoots the Alchemist in the face with his shot pistol - cue the Alchemist's mask absorbing the shot balls like it was made from mercury, then sending them back out in the opposite direction as fast as they were going, resulting in Nimier catching the full brunt of the blast in the chest and dying soon afterwards.
  • Immortality Immorality: The Alchemist's mask grants him immortality and eternal youth by storing and slowly draining the souls of people who died staring into his mask. Said mask must be tempered in the blood of about 100 virgins as part of its construction and periodic reforging.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: One of Preah's costumes is a gown that basically consists of golden embroidery covering the important bits and a form-fitting transparent muslin holding the embroidery together. It has no buttons or stitches, other than a single piece of hidden string, which instantly undresses her once removed. She dares Vidocq to show his detective skills and find that string.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Vidocq impales the Alchemist with a huge mirror shard, and sends him crashing through a window.
  • In the Hood: The Alchemist wears a black hood over his mirrored mask.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Etienne, who is a journalist and Vidocq's biographer. During the story, he slowly recreates all the steps the detective himself made, but the Alchemist always seems to get the witnesses first. That's because he's Etienne, tying up all loose ends.
  • Kick Chick: Evoked by the Alchemist, who seems to be a woman judging for his sighs, and whose fighting style is based in kicks behind cape whirls. Subverted at the end, as he is a man.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: Invoked and discussed by Paris police with Vidocq. There is just no way a lighting could randomly kill people that are easily connected together.
    Lautrennes: One man struck by a lighting - an accident. Two - a conspiracy.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Alchemist is VERY good at putting on a facade of being a bumbling but well meaning reporter. Subverted in that Vidocq and Nermier were on to him from the start and weren't fooled for a moment.
  • Mask of Power: The Alchemist's Cool Mask is made out of mirror that he uses to eat the souls of his victims. For extra creepiness, it also makes the victim see their own dying face while looking at him.
  • Match Cut: Used extensively throughout the film. One of the more memorable is Etienne picking an oriental hairpin from Vidocq's belongings, which cuts to an identical pin in Preah's hair, as she is giving one of her performances.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Subverted. Vidocq's lover Preah is an entertainer whose act is about passing herself off as an exotic Southeast Asian dancer, but she's actually a Frenchwoman. It's implied they're together because he saw the real her through the disguise.
    Etienne: (chuckles upon learning the truth) You are not an Asian.
    Preah: (in deadpan) You are very perceptive for a reporter.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: More like Major Crime Reveals Unrelated Major Crime. Someone killed two people crucial for the national weapon manufacturing. Soon after a third one has a heart attack after a failed assassination. Clearly, this is a conspiracy, as the action takes place few days before the July Revolution. Turns out the fact those three man were in weapon business has zero bearing to the main case or reason of their death. The Alchemist killed them simply to cover up his own existence. And the fact they've delivered close to a hundred virgins to him for a sacrifice. Should they be in a different enterprise, the police wouldn't even bother with the case, having to deal with boiling revolutionary spirit.
  • Mistaken for Gay: After listening to Preah story, Etienne outright asks if the killed trio was gay due to their lack of interest in her. She instantly dismiss it, implying different kind of affection.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: As Vidocq puts it, The Alchemist puts on the persona of Etienne, a stupid but well meaning journalist, to hide his true nature. Turns out that no one was fooled for a moment.
  • Occult Detective: Implied with Vidocq, which is implied to have some occult knowledge. His laboratory includes some bizarre lightning science, to the point he can reproduce the Alchemist's method of murder, and he's later shown understanding pretty fast how his magical mask works.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The Alchemist not only teleports offscreen but also manages to change his position in absolutely impossible movements. However, this is consistent with the villain's impossible nature, who even manages to have two left arms in one scene.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The Alchemist seems to have haunted Paris since The Middle Ages. And he still looks like a young man.
  • Reformed Criminal: Vidocq was this, both in the film and in Real Life. Nimier, his assistant, shares the background.
  • The Reveal:
    • Vidocq has been Faking the Dead to trap the Alchemist.
    • It turns out that Etienne is the Alchemist himself, who tries to find and eliminate all clues leading to him that Vidocq left.
  • Serial Killer: The Alchemist has been killing people long before the film starts.
  • Smug Snake: The Alchemist, while cunning, fails to realize that Vidocq and Nimier were on to him from the start.
  • Strictly Professional Relationship: Right after a flashback showing clear romantic involvement between Vidocq and Preah, she informs Etienne their relationship was strictly professional. But then again, she is a high-class courtesan.
  • Posthumous Character: Vidocq himself. Which is actually a ruse.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Played with. At first it seems that the murders are this, as they are performed through regular (if unrealistic) science, but then it turns out that the Alchemist really is a supernatural killer.
  • Soft Glass: Made into a subtle hint of future plot development, as the Alchemist (a walking defiance of physics) jumps through a large window and several stories to the ground, walking away unharmed. Later on, Etienne does the same thing.
  • Sword Cane: Vidocq has one, which uses in the opening fight scene.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: The Alchemist requires the blood of young female virgins to keep the mask that gives him his powers on the mend. The details are unclear, but one escaped subject seemed to have had her tongue cut out, and his laboratory contained mutilated human remains and rags that may have started out as human skins.
  • Yellowface: In-Universe, exotic dancer Préah (Spanish actress Inés Sastre) puts fake epicanthic folds over her eyes to look East Asian.
  • Your Soul Is Mine!: The Alchemist devours the souls of his victims through his mirrored mask to maintain his immortality.