La Femme Nikita (1990)

LaFemmeNikita1990The French film, La Femme Nikita (also known as Nikita), continues the grand tradition of film noir, or, in this case, French film noir.  Superbly directed by Luc Besson (Fifth Element, The Professional), Nikita has a dark urban setting with violent subject matter and protagonists, gangsters and loners who are not quite on one side of the law or the other.  Besson fills the screen, and screenplay as writer, with deep contrasts in lighting, character, and emotion.

Besson uses cold colors, particularly blue (which James Cameron’s T2 mimicked), artificial light, and hard edges to give a rigid, almost metallic feel to the film.  The bright artificially lit scenes where Nikita receives some detailed instructions and training show hope for her, but the irony, which comes later, is her discovery that her life does not belong to her anymore.  The random power of the controlling characters in Nikita’s life (particularly her “boss”) extinguish each “positive” aspect of Nikita’s life soon after it is presented.  Notice how the contrast in lighting accentuate this point and ask yourself why her boss does these things for her.

Nikita, well played by Anne Parillaud (Map of the Human Heart, Man in the Iron Mask) transforms the role of action hero into a sleek, emotional package as Nikita undergoes an involuntary life transformation due to her checkered past.

“The Cleaner”, yet another great performance by Jean Reno (The Professional, French Kiss), plays Nikita’s counterpart who enters the plot when “an assignment” is not completed.  This situation eventually shapes the film’s climax where the main characters’ means come to a violent end.

True to the film noir genre, the audience always has a sense of unease, menace and paranoia throughout this masterpiece.  You are not expected to condemn or admire Nikita, but you should be able to identify with her rebellion against society as a whole.

Nikita’s cold, violent actions do not really reflect her true self and other people’s perceptions of her.  She uses this trait to her advantage which saves her life more than once.  This element of her character gives you that Nikita stills puts value in her life even though she’s in a situation that warrants her to conform to a certain mold of activity.

La Femme Nikita offers the audience with a dark visual style that steers the plot and film noir elements into a compelling and entertaining ride.  Followed by an U.S. remake called Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda, Harvey Kietel, and Gabriel Byrne, and a USA TV series of the same name starring Peta Wilson, then the Nikita TV series starring Maggie Q.

© Michael Siebenaler

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