La Femme Nikita (film)
|La Femme Nikita|
|Directed by||Luc Besson|
|Produced by||Patrice Ledoux|
|Written by||Luc Besson|
|Music by||Éric Serra|
|Edited by||Olivier Mauffroy|
|Distributed by||Gaumont Film Company|
|Budget||39 million F|
La Femme Nikita,[a] also called Nikita, is a 1990 action thriller film written and directed by Luc Besson. The film stars Anne Parillaud as the title character, a teen criminal who is handed a life sentence for murdering policemen during an armed pharmacy robbery. Her government handlers fake her death and recruit her as a professional assassin. After intense training, she starts a career as a talented killer, where she struggles to balance her work with her personal life. Her career progresses until a mission in an embassy goes awry.
Nikita was commercially successful but received mixed reviews from critics. It was remade as Black Cat (1991) in Hong Kong and Point of No Return (1993) in Hollywood. Two television series were produced based on the film, La Femme Nikita (1997–2001) and Nikita (2010–2013).
Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a nihilistic teenage junkie who commits her life to anarchy, drugs and violence. One night, she participates in the robbery of a pharmacy owned by a friend's parents. The robbery goes awry, erupting into a gunfight with local police, during which her accomplices are killed. Suffering severe withdrawal symptoms, she murders a police officer. Nikita is arrested, tried, and convicted of murder and is sentenced to life in prison.
In prison, her captors fake her death, making it appear that she has committed suicide via a tranquilizer overdose. She awakens in a nondescript room, where a well-dressed but hard-looking man named Bob (Tchéky Karyo) tells her that, although officially dead and buried, she is in the custody of a shadowy government agency known as "the Centre" (possibly part of the DGSE). She is given the choice of becoming an assassin, or of actually occupying "row 8, plot 30", her fake grave. After some resistance, she chooses the former and gradually proves to be a talented killer. She is taught computer skills, martial arts, and firearms. One of her trainers, Amande (Jeanne Moreau), transforms her from a degenerate drug addict to a beautiful femme fatale. Amande implies that she was also rescued and trained by the Centre.
Her initial mission, killing a foreign diplomat in a crowded restaurant and escaping back to the Centre from his well-armed bodyguards, doubles as the final test in her training. She graduates and begins life as a sleeper agent in Paris (under the name Marie). She meets Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade) in a supermarket and the two develop an intimate relationship although he knows nothing of her real profession. Marco is curious about her past and why she has no family or other friends. Nikita then invites Bob to dinner as "Uncle Bob". Bob tells stories about "Marie"'s imaginary childhood, then giving the couple tickets for a trip to Venice, purportedly as an engagement gift.
Nikita and Marco go on the trip and during their preparation to make love, the phone rings. She thinks it's the room service they just ordered, but it is instructions for her next job. As her room is, not surprisingly, perfectly located to take aim at the target, she goes to the bathroom window, supposedly to take a bath, and as she prepares the rifle, Marco is attempting to talk to her through the door. The instructions on whom to shoot take longer than expected and she can't answer him. She finally gets the instructions and takes out her target. She is barely able to conceal the rifle before Marco walks in, against her wishes. By then, she is distraught because she has ignored and hurt him due to her job.
Still, her career as an assassin goes well until a document-theft mission in an embassy goes awry. The Centre sends in Victor "The Cleaner" (Jean Reno), a ruthless operative, to salvage the mission and destroy all the evidence of the foul-up. When one of the operatives turns on Victor and is killed by him, Nikita is forced to take his place. They make it most of the way through the mission when it goes bad. The gate is closed and Victor takes on a bunch of guards before being fatally wounded, but drives Nikita to safety before succumbing to his wounds. Marco reveals that he has discovered Nikita's secret life, and, concerned over how her activities are affecting her psychologically, persuades her to disappear. Upon discovering that she abandoned the Centre, Bob goes to their apartment where he meets with Marco. Bob says she can't be out of danger because she still has the documents, after which Marco hands them over. They agree that they will both miss her.
- Anne Parillaud as Nikita
- Jean-Hugues Anglade as Marco
- Tchéky Karyo as Bob
- Jeanne Moreau as Amande
- Jean Reno as Victor "The Cleaner"
- Jacques Boudet as The Chemist
- Philippe Leroy as Grossman
Based on the success of Le Grand Bleu, Gaumont agreed to finance Nikita without even having seen a script. Nikita cost 39 million francs to make, and was a co-production between Besson's own company Les Films du Loup, Gaumont, and Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematographica.
Following the premiere, the film went on tour in France to 15 towns with Besson to promote it and enter discussion with the audience after the screenings. Other cast and crew members on the tour included Éric Serra, Anne Parillaud, Jean-Hugues Anglade and occasionally Tchéky Karyo. The film had 3,787,845 spectators in France by 2000. It was the fourth highest-grossing film in France for 1990, but was not as popular as Besson's previous film The Big Blue (1988).
After Nikita's release in France, it was released in over 95 countries. Gaumont handled the sales of distribution rights separately, distribution rights were sold to Columbia Pictures and the remake rights were sold to Warner Bros.. Nikita was shown in Montreal, Canada in 1990. The film was very popular in Montreal, where distributor Didier Farre noted that the film was only beaten by Bird on a Wire and Back to the Future Part III in June 1990. In Britain, the film became the highest weekly box office ever for a French film and was also popular in the box office in Italy and Japan.
It was released in the United States in 1991. The film had a six-month theatrical run in the United States where it reached an audience of 1.15 million. By the end of the year, the film was the third highest grossing French film production in the United States. Besson felt that the film was inappropriately promoted in the United States, proposing that "Nikita is an action film but was released in American art houses. The Big Blue has the same problem, released in the United States as an intellectual work, and attracting the wrong audience."
In France, the popular press reception to the film was mixed. Monthly film journals were more favourable while the more serious journals were predominantly negative. Reviews from Le Nouvel Observateur, Libération, Le Figaro and Le Journal du Dimanche gave the film positive reviews, where they all appreciated Besson's film noir styled film and were surprised at Parillaud's acting in a demanding role. In contrast the film was dismissed in reviews from L'Humanité, L'événement du jeudi, Le Monde, Le Parisien, and La Croix who found the film resembled a commercial advertisement visually and psychologically had the depth of a comic strip.
Speaking of the film's critical reception in France, Besson noted he would not talk to the press, stating that he would want to "count on them to help me, to help me evaluate my own work", and that the "critics should be looking towards the future, but in France, all they want to talk about is the past." Besson went on to state: "I don't have much belief in the sincerity of critics, I believe in the sincerity of someone who goes to a film, pays his ticket and comes out saying what he thinks because he has nothing to gain by doing so. The critics defend an ideology, their age, their profession, a lot of things that don't interest me." Paris Critic Marc Esposito of Studio responded to Besson statements, describing Besson as someone who "thinks he's a nice guy, and everyone around him is evil. We are all guilty of not adoring Luc Besson."
The film received mixed reviews outside France. On Metacritic, the overall score from 14 critics is 56 out of 100, indicating "mixed or average reviews". However, on Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 89% based on 44 reviews. A number of critics, including Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, positively reviewed the film.
The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Parillaud won the César Award for Best Actress and the David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress in 1991.
Aftermath and influence
When asked about a follow-up to Nikita, Anne Parillaud spoke about being approached for a sequel, noting her lack of interest, stating: "If the film was a failure, would you have had anything more to say about her? No. Of course not."
La Femme Nikita was remade in Hong Kong as the action film Black Cat directed by Stephen Shin in 1991. It was remade again in Hollywood as Point of No Return by John Badham in 1993. This was part of a trend for Hollywood to remake French films in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Daily Variety noted that between 1987 and 1993, Hollywood remade seventeen contemporary French films, all of them released in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The remakes were generally initiated by the French films and often make more money for their directors as an American adaptation than they do as original films in France.
A TV series based on the film, titled La Femme Nikita, premiered in 1997. It was produced in Canada by Fireworks Entertainment. The developer Joel Surnow, who described himself as "devotee of Besson's film", has repeatedly stated in interviews that the series is modelled explicitly after the Besson's film and not the American remake, declaring that he had never seen Point of No Return. The premiere episode of the series borrows scenes from Besson's film, with Variety noting that it was a scene-by-scene re-creation of the kitchen restaurant scene. Several lead roles in the series parallel those of the film, with Roy Dupuis as Nikita's trainer Michael, who was called Bob in Besson's film, and Alberta Watson as Madeline, who was similar to a character played by Jeanne Moreau in Besson's version.
- French pronunciation: [la fam nikita], literally "The Woman Nikita"
- Hayward 2010, p. 129.
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