Saturday, September 10, 2005

Banlieue 13 (13th District)

Banlieue 13 is set in Paris of 2010, where the poor and the undesirable have been forced into ghettos walled off from the rest of the city and controlled by criminal gangs. One of these gangs, led by crime boss Taha (played by Bibi Naceri, who co-wrote the screenplay with Luc Besson), hijacks a truck and gains possession of a neutron bomb that is accidentally triggered to go off in less than 24 hours. Undercover cop Damien (played by Cyril Raffaelli) is forced to team up with ghetto rebel Leito (David Belle) to retrieve the device. Leito, meanwhile, has his own agenda with Taha, who is holding Leito's sister hostage as punishment for Leito destroying Taha's drugs.

Produced by Luc Besson, the film is the directorial debut of Pierre Morel, who has acted as cinematographer on a number of Besson-produced/written films, including The Transporter and Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog). Cyril Raffaelli (who attended the screening) is a long-time associate of Besson, mainly working stunts or as a body double in a number of movies such as Double Team and Ronin before moving on to acting in films such as Kiss of the Dragon (where he can be seen fighting Jet Li in the climax) and Crimson Rivers 2.

David Belle is an interesting choice in that he is the founder of Le Parkour, a movement where people try to move from point A to point B as fast as possible, in the most fluid manner as possible, without stopping, and always moving forward, never backward. It is big in Europe, and has even made an appearance on this side of the Atlantic in an episode of CSI: NY. The movement originated out of work his father did, but parkour is adapted to an urban environment.

This film is amazing. If you've seen the street chase scene in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior and thought that it was a refreshing change from all the wire work present in most action films today, that pales in comparison to the chase scenes in Banlieue 13. Watching David Belle escape from an apartment building while chased by thugs is like watching poetry in motion. The movments are so graceful and fluid, and the things he does are amazing, because it is very evident that he's performing the stunts himself and that there's no safety equipment involved. He scales the sides of buildings 20 stories up, he jumps from rooftop to rooftop, he even slips past thugs in a narrow hallway by bouncing up the walls. And not to be outdone, Raffaelli has some great martial arts scenes, especially a long sequence in a backroom casino.

Plot-wise, the movie isn't necessarily anything new, with the obvious parallel being John Carpenter's Escape from New York. But the action in the movie is so amazing it is well worth seeing.

Notes from the Q&A with Cyril Raffaelli:

  • The movie was a quick shoot, taking only about three months, and the film was in theatres two months after that.
  • Every action scene in the movie is real; there is absolutely no wire work of any kind. It is also evident in the movie that there are also no mattresses or nets in any of the shots.
  • Raffaelli and Belle have talked amongst themselves about a sequel and would love to do one, but there's no serious talk of anything right now.
  • Besson was originally going to make one movie with Raffaelli and a different one with Belle, but then decided to put both of them together.
  • Raffaelli start martial arts when he was very young, and then his mother put him into circus school. He ended up combining the two, which led him to become a stuntman. He's now been in almost 70 films, 10 of them with Europa, Luc Besson's company.
  • He's been a body double for Jean-Claude Van Damne in Double Team.
  • Raffaelli's work in Kiss of the Dragon led to the role in Banlieue 13.
  • He is very into martial arts and action films of all kinds from all over, but when he is making or choreographing a film, he likes to read the entire script to get a sense of the character, and tries to be realistic in the stunts and the combat, unlike a lot of US films.
  • Raffaelli tried to show the differences between Leito and Damien in their fighting styles; Leito, being from the street, has a rougher style, more boxing-like, while Damien, being from the more civilized part of Paris, has a cleaner, more calculated style.
  • Since Belle had no background in acrobatics or martial arts, Raffaelli took him to Thailand and trained him over a two-year period.
  • Raffaelli doesn't do parkour himself in the pure sense, but has used elements of it in a chase scene he choreographed for Crimson Rivers 2, plus as a stunt professional he feels he is supposed to be able to do anything (he's certified in scuba diving, skydiving, horseback riding, driving cars/trucks/motorcycles).
  • He has trained in multiple martial arts, including karate, Tae Kwon Do, Brazilian ju-jitsu, and combat-style kung-fu (of which he was the French champion in 1997). He had to give up the kung-fu competitively because it was interfering with his film work.


I agree with you; Banlieue 13 is the best film I have seen at the Festival so far this year.

I agree with you; Banlieue 13 is the best film I have seen at the Festival so far this year.

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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