Lowdown: A hot woman opens a can of worms for an innocent guy as she exposes him to a world of crime.
The French film Anthony Zimmer (2005) starts by quickly teaching us a few facts, thus setting things up: Anthony Zimmer is a guy who made a whole lot of money through a brilliant scheme of illegal money laundering. As a result of that scheme he is sought after by the law as well as by all sorts of criminals, including some particularly vicious ones with KGB connections. In response to the threat Zimmer has an operation to change his appearance; no one knows what he looks like or what his next move is going to be. The only exception: his beautiful lover, Chiara, to whom he leaves instructions that should lead to them uniting. The instructions? Board a train to Nice and pick up an innocent guy.
Chiara (Sophie Marceau) boards the rather empty TGV train and sits opposite Francois (Yvan Attal). Francois, a recent divorcee on a low key translator's career, cannot avoid falling for the ravishing goddess that’s opposing him. When Chiara invites him to leave his mundane holiday plans behind and join her at an exotic hotel we know what his choice is going to be. What he doesn’t realize is that his submission puts him firmly in the middle of Zimmer’s plot, an innocent man surrounded by villains all around.
I won’t mess you about: I thoroughly enjoyed Anthony Zimmer. It’s been a long time since I found myself so thrilled by a thriller (as opposed to an action film), but I think the reason is pretty clear: due to various reasons stemming from the depths of their marketing departments, Hollywood is unable to come up with products as good as this one coming from France.
Let’s start with the sexual tension between Francois, the mere mortal I found myself so easily identifying with, and the goddess figure of Chiara that could bring him to his ruin. First there’s the noticeable fact Chira is played by a 40 year old actress; she still looks smashingly good and unlike the typically cast Hollywood Barbie doll she can act and she packs a whole lot of character with her. When Marceau plays the role of a high class temptress the viewer’s suspension of disbelief is not challenged in the least.
That sexual tension on which the film relies so much is aided by unique cinematography style that has the camera close to the ground and very tightly closed on its moving subject. This style helps maintain that sense of mystery, as when we first meet a Chiara walking French streets in a dress and high heeled shoes from the shoes’ point of view: we suspect there’s a sexy woman up there, we see what she’s doing, but we can’t tell much about her – her face remains a mystery. All that is achieved without rocking a handheld camera to the point of nauseating the viewer and without the quick edits that prevent you from knowing what’s going on. In other words, Anthony Zimmer does not jerk you off.
Then there is the music. Perhaps it’s too intense for the film; perhaps it's more suitable for a haunting atmosphere. I, however, found it gripping, seamlessly patching things up to complete the package.
Now let’s compare Anthony Zimmer to an American thriller where identities are also at the core of things, Shutter Island. Shutter Island is directed by a guy many would say is the best director out there and features stars of major Hollywoodian appeal, yet if you were to ask me the whole affair should have been named Stutter Island. In contrast, Anthony Zimmer uses simple techniques to render it effective; it does not rely on reputation, it just delivers.
For the record, in the process of writing this review I learned Anthony Zimmer served as the inspiration for a Hollywood remake called The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. I haven’t seen The Tourist but I know it has the firm reputation of a flop. Somehow, I am not surprised.
Overall: I liked Anthony Zimmer much more than its 3.5 out of 5 stars rating would make you think.