Mon Roi is out this week, a hangover from last year’s Cannes where it played in Competition and won Best Actress for Emmanuelle Bercot.
It’s male star, Vincent Cassel was of course in Cannes this year in Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End of the World, which got stinking reviews and was, frankly, unsupportable, if I may Franglicise a word there.
Wasn’t Vincent’s fault. He was charismatic as ever. Here follows an appreciation I did of him for the Guardian. Everyone’s a bit OTT in Mon Roi, a film which is very good for an hour before becoming a bit, well, frazzled and screechy for just that 20 mins too long.
But it does get inside the head of its female protagonist, a woman who’s so bedazzled and abused by Vincent Cassel that you can understand the turmoil that literally reaches breaking point.
Anyway, Vincent is still one of my favourite stars and favourite interviews. Here’s a little clip of us in conversation (above) at BAFTA a few years back.
As Vincent Cassel approaches 50, I look back on a career of virtue and villainry
When you want a livewire presence in your movie, just call Vincent Cassel.
The moment he comes on screen, it crackles and teeters with possibilities – anything could happen next.
Cassel shot to international attention in Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine in 1995, a film of power, anger and youthful passion which energised European cinema for a new generation. Cassel quickly became its poster boy, the first French actor in years to recapture the sexy, rebellious mystique of Jean Paul Belmondo in A Bout de Souffle.
Vincent is at it again in Mon Roi, deploying all his vicious charisma to totally confuse and practically destroy the woman in his life (played by Emmanuelle Bercot who won Best Actress as Cannes last year for her performance.)
Cassel’s mercurial skills are equally to the fore, poring full beam out of those flitting, fluttering eyes. He’s one of those deeply instinctive actors who’s also a movie star – men want to be him, women want to sleep with him, yet none of that is a good idea for anyone.
Cassel, son of famous French tap dancer and musical star Jean-Pierre Cassel (dubbed the ‘French Fred Astaire’, no less), inherited his father’s moves and is a practitioner of the Brazilian “martial art” capoeira.
It shows as he glides with animalistic grace through his own movies. He can be brutal and handsome, cruel and tender. A film such as the controversial rape revenge Irreversible, in which he appeared fully naked with his then wife Monica Bellucci, showcases all of his facets, but backwards, so we start with raging violence and end with one of the most natural and easy unsimulated sex scenes in film history.
I love him, too, in 2001’s Read My Lips, for the great director Jacques Audiard, where Vincent plays an ex-con who exploits the deaf woman (Emmanuelle Devos) who employs him, getting her to lip read the plans of a bunch of gangsters he plans to rob.
It’s typical of Cassel, this ability to shift between genres and social classes, to move through the shadows, lithe and dangerous. He can be the bad boy from the streets, as in La Haine, and the next film, L’ Appartement can find him as a ‘yuppie’ (remember them?) flitting between stylish flats in Paris and New York.
It was on the well-dressed, very 1990s sets of L’Appartement that Cassel met Italian bombshell Monica Bellucci and they began a love affair that turned them into the golden couple of European cinema, constantly upping the star wattage at film festivals and on Cannes red carpets. Sadly, they divorced in 2013.
Cassel’s acting career pinnacle arrived in the two-part gangster biopic Mesrine (2008), in which he played France’s most notorious villain of the 1970s, a sweeping, Scarface-style epic of crime and sex for which he gained weight and, finally, a Cesar for best actor. In tears, he dedicated the win to his father, who had died 18 months previously.
His international cache has lead to a career in English-language pictures such as Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen, as well as Derailed, Black Swan and David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. He will soon be seen in the latest Jason Bourne movie.
He’s even played the devil, in a movie called Sheitan. Perfect casting, you might say. But Cassel will be 50 this year, the anti-establishment hoodlum from La Haine who now finds himself ascending to an elder statesmen role in French cinema.
However, as Mon Roi shows, he can still dance dangerously along that trademark, serrated edge he brings to every movie, smiling as he goes.