This film was not the fishing how-to Judge Jesse Ataide had been expecting. Thank goodness.
Young. Beautiful. Deadly.
In Fresh Bait (also known by its original title, L'Appât) director Bertrand Tavernier betrays a preoccupation with modern youth culture and the environments, attitudes, and societal pressures that shape that age group's motivations, desires, and interactions with each other. The film, based on a true story, revolves around a beautiful, ambitious young woman who allows herself to be used by her boyfriend and his best friend as a decoy to seduce wealthy older men as a prelude to armed robbery. Their motivation? That during one of the robberies they'll come across the 10 million francs necessary to leave Paris and open up a clothing shop in Florida.
It takes a while for Fresh Bait to get going and turn into the shocking crime film that it ends as. We watch as Nathalie (Marie Gillain) makes "contacts" in a local restaurant, using her charm and good looks to meet the wealthy and successful businessmen who dine there. Back in her apartment at the end of the night she carefully records the names, professions, addresses, and phone numbers of the men she met, ranking them by their potential to help her land a glamorous, high-paying job. Her boyfriend Eric (Olivier Sitruk) and his best friend Bruno (Bruno Putzulu) are just as ambitious, but not nearly as willing to put out the effort to achieve anything. Inspired by the Hollywood action movies they adore, they turn to crime to make the money they are convinced they need to get somewhere in life.
The problem is that Tavernier spends so much time focusing on the surface details and nuances of Nathalie, Eric, and Bruno's everyday lives that he forgets to develop them into interesting, compelling characters that the audience is concerned about as the plot becomes increasingly dark and dangerous. There's no denying the skill he has in depicting the messy apartment the trio share, the seedy diners they meet at, and the pop culture they devour with abandon (demonstrated through the presence and preoccupation with Pacino's Scarface, Michael Jordan posters, racy music videos, and references to the latest Hollywood blockbusters), all which attest to Tavernier's talent in capturing the interests and values of his main characters. But for some reason he seems merely content to throw these references out and leave them hanging there unexplored, expecting the audience to make some kind of connection between these objects and images and the character's increasingly destructive behavior.
As Nathalie, Marie Gillain does the best job of creating some kind of three-dimensional character out of the rather flat role she had to work with (and manages to look great doing it); the two male leads occasionally have their moments but never emerge as anything more than rather clueless criminal posers. It's ironic, given how uninteresting the characters end up being that all three were based on actual people, but perhaps that's the problem: throughout Fresh Bait Nathalie, Eric, and Bruno remain as distant and enigmatic as criminals viewed from afar on the evening news, and never become the actual human beings behind the highly charged story. There's never any emotional connection, and no reason to care what eventually happens to these characters when the law finally catches up with them.
Koch Lorber has presented Fresh Bait in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, but the transfer merely adequate. There are no obvious image defects, but often the image is muddy and dull. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio track is likewise decent, but nothing more. English subtitles are provided, and the extras include an interview session with the three stars of the film, as well as screenwriter Colo Tavernier O'Hagan, a photo gallery, and the original French trailer.
With Fresh Bait, Tavernier had the material and the potential to make a film in the tradition of such celebrated films as Breathless and Bonnie and Clyde, both films featuring beautiful, charismatic young people who you can't help but love despite the despicable things they do. Unfortunately, in the case of Fresh Bait such great potential never develops into anything more than a routine French thriller/drama.
The characters may be guilty, but the film barely gets by.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• Interview with stars and screenwriter
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