|'I’m not sure whether it’s a challenge or the easiest job in the world to ostensibly play yourself (or a least a perception of yourself) but he certainly manages it to an extremely high degree'|
I’d been waiting to see JCVD for a while having read some great reviews of how ‘different’ it was on RT and in the press as a whole. The central conceit taken by Director Mabrouk El Mechri is an exploration of what could happen if Jean-Claude Van Damme was to get caught up in a bank robbery.
As it turns out, the film explores much wider questions about the nature of fame, celebrity and personality, pushing the ‘fake’ persona of JCVD to the fore only for it to be replaced midway through for two minutes by the real-life Jean-Claude Van Damme (or is it?!).
Of course, the above sentence is very confusing but then that’s the sort of film JCVD aspires to be. Mixing in real life occurrences (his custody battle and rumoured money troubles) with apparently entirely fake ones (the bank robbery), El Mechri makes us question who Jean-Claude really is and if the persona the public have of him as JCVD –Action Hero, exists at all.
It’s testament to his talent that El Mechri keeps this up all the way through, perhaps only deviating from it at the films conclusion where he bizarrely chooses to abandon his otherwise successful style of blending JCVD with Jean-Claude and getting and answer roughly equal to ‘truth’ by separating them out to form two possible conclusions. I didn’t feel this really added anything to the film as by this point El Merchi’s message was clear. Happily, however, the Director does choose the correct conclusion and so his momentary lapse of faith in his own style can be brushed over and forgotten.
While the direction and overall concept is superb the real star of the show is Jean-Claude himself. I’m not sure whether it’s a challenge or the easiest job in the world to ostensibly play yourself (or a least a perception of yourself) but he certainly manages it to an extremely high degree. It’s especially interesting to note that Van Damme is infinitely more believable as an actor when he speaks in his native language and I can certainly see a future for him as a non-action packed detective in art-house Belgian and French films.
Overall then, a successful experiment which will certainly leave you asking who the real Van Damme is and if we saw any of him at all in the film. El Mechri might have created a new genre in the ‘fictional biography’ department which sounds like it might be annoying and horribly self-indulgent but ends up being almost unique and compellingly ‘different’.