“You’ll have to go to hell and back.”
If you’re expecting a film based on the life of the fascinating Vidocq, then you may be disappointed. But if you’re ready for a thrilling historical detective story laced with fantasy & the supernatural, then Vidocq (Dark Portals: the Chronicles of Vidocq) is an obscure feast. Vidocq’s life would make a great subject for a film–he was a criminal and a master of disguise, and during his long checkered career and multiple arrests, he became an informer, was recruited as a police spy, and eventually ran a plainclothes police unit. Later in life, he resigned from the police and ran a small printing company and formed the world’s first detective agency.
Set in the 1830s, the film begins with a fantastic duel between Vidocq and a cloaked figure who wears a golden glass mask. In spite of Vidocq’s bulk and cunning, he is no match for the superhuman qualities of the masked man, and Vidocq is killed. A young journalist, Etienne Boisset (Guillaume Canet) who was writing Vidocq’s biography begins to backtrack through Vidocq’s last investigation. Etienne digs through Vidocq’s notes and uncovers clues about the detective’s final case.
Just prior to his death, Vidocq (Gerard Depardieu) was approached by government official, Lautrennes (Andre Dussolier) to solve the deaths of two men–arms dealer Belmont and chemist Veraldi. While their deaths appear to be due to natural causes (both men were simultaneously struck by lightening and burst into flames), Lautrennes suspects they were murdered for political reasons and employs Vidocq to investigate. Vidocq was on the trail of a vicious killer when he was killed, so Etienne decides to continue the case…
Director Pitof (a pseudonym for Jean-Christophe Comar) created the visual effects for The City of Lost Children, so if you’ve seen that film, you have an idea of the sort of visual effects that await you in Vidocq. The seamy side of Paris is the perfect laboratory for Pitof’s talent–stormy skies, and lightening storms above the filthy gutters of the slums, opium dens and brothels of the notoriously evil Temple District. Set against the political unrest of the 1830s, Pitof captures the mood of the times, and yet makes it uniquely his own. While the story here is pure fiction, the film also captures the essence of Vidocq–one of the strangest characters in the history of humankind–and a great deal of the film is spent in flashbacks which explore Vidocq’s fascination with the sordid side of life. Vidocq’s love of the science behind detective technique, however, is not neglected in this incredible tale. In French with English subtitles. For those interested in the life of Vidocq, I recommend The Memoirs of Vidocq: Master of Crime.