Jacques Mesrine sits facing his lawyer. They’re in a small, dark holding room, locked in by a large metal door. An armed guard paces outside. Mesrine is being held in La Santé Prison, a high-security facility in the heart of Paris. He’s awaiting trial for multiple armed bank robberies.
Mesrine is dressed casually—a maroon, long sleeve polo. He has shoulder-length black hair, a mustache, and bushy mutton chops. He’s a large man but agile. He wears his gut comfortably. Right now, he has the air of a naughty child who is being scolded by his mother—a role that Mesrine has thrust his lawyer into. She’s dressed in muted colors. Her bun is falling out and she has bags under her eyes. Her client has made her job very difficult. She struggles to keep her voice calm.
“Can you explain this?”
She holds up a large red book. The cover reads Killer Instinct— Mesrine’s self-published autobiography. It famously details his unbelievable number of criminal exploits and outrageous love affairs. He wrote it while awaiting trial in La Santé Prison.
“Yes, that’s my book,” Mesrine responds.
“It’s not a book. It’s suicide.”
Mesrine doesn’t say anything, he grins. She continues:
“You’re on trial in less than two months, and you confess to 40 murders in print!”
Mesrine smiles wider, but she couldn’t be more serious. He lets his lawyer keep speaking.
“Right now every policeman in France is studying your book. They’ll compare it to the cold cases, and they’ll dig up corpses!”
“If they dig, they better dig here.” Mesrine points to temple.
His lawyer pauses. “Why? It’s not true?”
Mesrine throws his hands up and sits back.
“People like pace. Action.”
“And anyway, no jury will think that I’m stupid enough to confess to stuff that will get me the guillotine.”
We watch Mesrine’s lawyer sit back, almost smiling herself. She still thinks he’s crazy, but she’s also clearly in awe of this man. He has been crazy before and it’s worked.
This is 1977. The book, Killer Instinct, went on to become a bestselling autobiography and plummeted Jacques Mesrine into being France’s most notorious criminal ever. Thirty years later, it became this whopping two-part biopic.
In the first film, we watch Jacques Mesrine rise as a low-level criminal in Paris. However, it’s not for about a decade before the legend of Jacques Mesrine actually begins. Not in France, but in Quebec in 1969. This was where he fled from French authorities with his girlfriend, Jeanne Schneider.
While in Quebec, Mesrine and Schneider attempt to kidnap a handicapped billionaire, George Deslauriers, and hold him for ransom. The plan fails, as well as their escape attempt. They’re driving through the Arizona desert when they’re captured by 50 US state troopers. Mesrine and Schneider are extradited to Canada. Both Canadian and American papers run headlines such as: “End of the Road for Bonnie Schneider and Clyde Mesrine.”
We watch Mesrine and Schneider step off the plane into Quebec. Immediately, they realize that they’ve become celebrities overnight. Lights are flashing as they’re bombarded with questions from dozens of reporters. Mesrine smiles and begins playing it up for the cameras. Mesrine grabs Jeanne, pulls her close and kisses her. One reporter yells out:
“You happy to be back in Quebec?”
“I love Quebec. It’s an endearing place,” Mesrine yells back.
The couple is being escorted by police through the crowd of journalists. Another one yells out:
“Why did you kidnap Mr. Deslauriers?”
“To teach him about life!” Mesrine responds. The crowd laughs.
OVID.tv’s MESRINE Is a Biopic of an Anti-Hero
Mesrine went on to capture and sustained the attention of French Media for three decades—and humiliated France’s judicial system for just as long. A French detective once described him as “a gangster with marketing savvy.” He spoke out against the unethical nature of high-security prisons and criticized the upper class. Mesrine fell into the persona of political activist and never stopped leaning into it.
From reports of court cases widely reported in France, we learn that Jacques Mesrine and his legacy are still divisive in France to this day**. Many in the younger generation have immortalized Mesrine as a national hero. His face can be found on t-shirts that represent the lower class's struggle against the rich. Many consider his death in 1979 a police execution—which gained him an extra layer of martyrdom.
Mesrine lived his life like he was writing a two-part gangster biopic. In this writer’s opinion, these films attempt the difficult task of finding the man in such an enormous, messy pile of self-created myth.
These films are recommended for those who like gangster movies and historical fiction. Those who enjoy watching murderous and self-promoting sociopaths will likely be enticed by this vibrant anti-hero.
Part One: 113 minutes
Part Two: 133 minutes
Directed by: Jean-François Richet
Screenplay by: Abdel Raouf Dafri & Jean-François Richet
Based on book by: Jacques Mesrine
Cinematography by: Robert Gantz
Vincent Cassel as Jacques Mesrine
Ludivine Sagnier as Sylvie Jeanjacquot
Roy Dupruis as Jean-Paul Mercier
Cécile De France as Jeanne Schneider
Mathieu Amalric as François Besse
To watch these films, visit the OVID.tv page for MESRINE DOUBLE FEATURE.
**Editor’s Note: Read an academic’s summary of the incidents captured in this film and used as a reference by the reviewer — “Make Your Life a Parallel Literary Work of Art: Some Thoughts on Literature—Mesrine."
Images courtesy of OVID.tv
About the Author: Grant Roulier
The final season of Lost broke something in Grant’s 12-year-old brain. No story had ever frustrated him more. Since then—call it love, call it masochism, call it both—all the stories he likes take big, messy swings. Fast forward ten years, Grant started dreaming of similarly frustrating 12-year-olds across America with his writing. Rumor has it the first script he wrote in high school was an anthropomorphic sock sitcom. Mismatched never got made, but if it does Grant hopes it’s after he’s dead. Until they bury him, Grant continues to write scripts, do improv, cook beignets, and have nightmares about that final season of Lost.