There are quite a number of French films available on instant Netflix. We will be featuring some of them this week. District B13 is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: District B13 (2004) – Rated R for strong violence, some drug content and language.
“Produced and co-written by acclaimed filmmaker Luc Besson, this stylized action thriller is set in Paris 2010, where the government has fenced off the ghettos in the city, the most dangerous of which is District B13. Teaming up to infiltrate the lawless sector, an elite-unit cop and a reformed vigilante put their lives on the line in a gutsy attempt to retrieve a stolen nuke and thwart a terrorist attack by the most powerful gang in the city.”
Kudos has to be given to Pierre Morel. His directorial debut here is a quintessential action movie.
The movie begins with a riff on the classic John Carpenter film, Escape from New York. Instead of criminals being walled off in New York, we have “troublesome” suburbs of Paris walled off.
While I normally give almost all the props of a film to the director, the two leads here are nothing short of amazing. You might think from that statement that I am referring to the acting but that is not it.
David Belle plays Leito, one of our two heroes. David has a superb claim to fame – he is the founder of the sport called Parkour. Parkour (PK – The Art of Moving) “is the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within ones path by adapting movement to the environment” (wiki).
Watching him in action is utterly astounding. His inventive use of objects and his ability to squeeze into very tight spaces quickly is breathtaking. Although it is not martial arts per se, the closest thing I remember to it was the first time I saw Bruce Lee fighting in Enter the Dragon or the first time I saw the inventive combination of gymnastics and martial arts by Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx.
Cyril Raffaelli plays Captain Damien Tomaso, our other hero. Not only is he also a traceur (practitioner of Parkour) and friend of David Belle but he is also a martial artist and is the fight co-ordinator for District B13.
Parkour was popularized two years later in the film Casino Royale. This features an excellent sequence involving traceur Sebastien Foucan. Parkour is also used in Live Free or Die Hard and music videos from Madonna (Jump), Janet Jackson (Feedback), and My Chemical Romance (Whip It!) (not to mention an episode of House :P).
I expect Parkour to become an action movie staple, perhaps even a cliche, in the same way that martial arts entered almost every action film after the 70s. While entertaining, it does beg the question, has every police detective/private investigator/etc. received substantial martial arts training?
The story by Luc Besson and Bibi Naceri is fun (I really liked how the villain inspired his minions to come up with an idea) and works quite well but is really just reasoning for the epic action setpieces. The futuristic setting lets them make social commentary while being entertaining.
Sadly there are a few action movie inanities. The villains chain the girl up right next to the rocket which makes zero sense.
I wholeheartedly endorse District B13. It is subtitled but that certainly will not prevent you from enjoying the action. Although it is true that you might miss some subtitles while marveling at the Parkour.
Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle reteam for District 13 – Ultimatum to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 27th so stick it in your Netflix queue if you enjoyed District B13. Unfortunately it is not directed by Pierre Morel so I will have to wait and see how good it is.
People Watch: While you may not yet recognize his name, director Pierre Morel was also responsible for the marvelous revenge thriller, Taken.