Subway Review

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Fred, an amiable drifter, crashes a stolen car into the Paris Metro in order to escape mob hit men. He discovers a vast enclave of folks who live underground.


Luc Besson’s first feature was the widescreen, black and white, wordless absurdist science fiction film Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle). After that, he moved towards a slightly more conventional area with this romantic thriller – which retains the love of weird incidental characters and surreal detail, but also develops some of the action movie muscles that would emerge in Besson’s later, more obviously commercial work.

Christopher Lambert’s enigmatically-named Fred, in a dinner jacket and spikey punk hairdo, makes an intriguingly offbeat mooncalf hero, on the run from the heavies surrounding elegantly-coiteured and cockatoo-plumed Isabelle Adjani. Among the interesting denizens of Besson’s bande dessinee-style Paris underground are le rolleur (a skating pickpocket), le drummer (a busker-philanthropist whose rhythms drive the movie). Big Bill (a handcuff-breaking muscle-man) and the florist (a would-be blackmailer), while the Maigret-look rumpled cop in charge of policing the chaos is partnered by an ambitious gloryhog nick-named Batman.

The plot is reduced to the broadest strokes (some stolen paper barely even qualify as a McGuffin), allowing Besson to explore the nooks and crannies of his extraordinary location (various Parisian authorities and vandals are to be complemented for their imaginative art direction and set decoration).

Stylish, if insubstantial, and with a lot of comic‑adventurous flair, this wholly pleasurable jeu d’esprit plays less like an action movie than a virtuoso jazz ensemble improvisation, with various riffs and licks spun off as odd characters do their own pieces and then recede into the background. A film of wonderful small moments: Adjani descending a staircase in a flouncy dress, Lambert dooby‑dooby‑doing to himself as he smashes up his car.

More style than substance here but what style it is and what little gems of cinematic moments collect together in this enjoyable ensemble.