POUR ELLE [ANYTHING FOR HER]

Pour Elle [Anything For Her]
d. Fred Cavayé / 2008 / France / 96 mins
Viewed on: Metrodome DVD (Region 2)

Pour Elle (Anything for Her)

One of a recent rash of particularly taut, visceral French thrillers, Fred Cavayé’s confident outing is further proof that there is something particularly special about the way that the Gallic handle this kind of dramatic material. Along with thrillers such as Tell No One (2006) and Roman de Gare (2007), as well as the much-lauded Kristen Scott Thomas vehicle, I’ve Loved You So Long (2008), Anything For Her forms something of a series of films which seem, perhaps inadvertently, to be providing a flipside to the intensely evil women which inhabit many of the films of legendary French director Claude Chabrol.

Chabrol’s Women

Unlike Chabrol’s women, who were often seen viciously – sometimes psychopathically – defending themselves or their status, the women at the centre of these films take up more traditional, passive roles, where it is often left to others to defend their honour. Whilst certainly not defenceless, these women are often imprisoned, physically or emotionally, and must await their rescuers or see out their sentence.

Here, Diane Kruger shines as Lisa, a woman arrested for murdering her boss, and subsequently jailed (perhaps wrongfully, we are never entirely sure, even after we see fairly hamfisted flashbacks of the ‘real’ offender). With his young family in tatters, it is left to Lisa’s husband Julien (in a memorable performance from the irrepressible Vincent Lindon) to formulate a meticulous, ambitious – if somewhat ridiculous – plan to spring her from prison.

Plausibility and Motivation

A regular, fatal flaw in films of this ilk is the tendency to over-egg the central predicament, concocting a sequence of events so preposterous as to ruin the whole film. Thankfully, Cavayé has crafted a film in which Lisa’s predicament is not entirely far-fetched and – despite Julien’s rather far-fetched jailbreak plan – it is the plausibility of her situation that drives both his motivation and the film as a whole.

In some respects, Julien should be a hard character with which to empathise, but Lindon’s performance ensures that, even as he is killing people and screaming at the police, we are firmly on his side. Putting aside the practicalities of the jailbreak, Cavayé delivers a suitably tense climax. Despite this climax giving way to a fairly simplistic conclusion, the film holds its own as an ‘ordinary man as vigilante’ film, in a style recognizably displayed in hundreds of films, from Death Wish (1974) to Man on Fire (2004).

Matching Hollywood

Anything for Her may not live up to the crisp, tangible intensity of Guillaume Canet’s similarly themed Tell No One, but Fred Cavayé should be commended for presenting audiences with a robust, engrossing French thriller that manages to beat Hollywood at one of its own games.

NB: A version of this review was originally hosted on the now defunct collaborative publishing website, Suite101.

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