Friday, 9 May 2014

Papillon (1973) 70's Marathon 16#

Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
Drama, Biography, Crime
146 Minutes

Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman star in this gritty prison film. The drama is excellent and you really get to feel for McQueen’s character as the film goes on due to the brilliant performance he brings to the film. I found the film had a weak last 30 or so minutes, but the film is a look at a friendship of longing and the desire to live on. The film will definitely leave you with feeling and is an excellent 70’s film that was adapted from the autobiography by Henri CharriĆ©re, a French Convict.

I would say this film has 2-3 acts. The first act is showing Henri (Steve McQueen) nicknames Papillon being transported to the Devil Island in French Guiana for his imprisonment of a murder. During the journey he meets Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman) who starts becoming his friend. The second act involves his escape plan, and attempting to do so. I shall not spoil the rest.

I absolutely loved the developing relationship between Papillon and Dega. It was not sappy, it was not sentimental- it was a very raw and realistic relationship. They did not throw out mushy lines or say how much they mean to each other. Instead, we get the power of expressions, in one of the film’s most powerful moments when Degas’ eyes tear up as he puts his arm around Papillon. There was something touchingly powerful about that scene.

After Papillon’s first escape attempt, he is sent to solitary confinement. I think of all the depictions of solitude, confinement and isolation this is one of the best. The walls begin to look like they are closing in on Papillon. His mentality begins to show when he talks to himself and paces around the little space he has. Steve McQueen gives an absolutely convincing performance, and in this scene it is some of the finest acting I have ever seen. The way the entire film was shot anchors the powerful performances. The gritty and dirty areas the characters are in really transports us to this offset location.

SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH: What really stops Papillon being a masterpiece though is the final 40 minutes. The closing 10 minutes are great and very symbolic/iconic, but the film suddenly gets tiresome after some of the escapades. After Papillon meets the leper’s (a creepy make-up scene indeed) Papillon ends up with a tribe after escaping from some soldiers, and I felt it got a little tiresome. Other than that scene, I found the film very captivating.

Roger Ebert, on the film’s release, was not a very big fan of the film giving it 2/4 stars saying the only reason we want to see Papillon escape is so the film can end.” I disagree a little with Ebert’s view on the film as McQueen’s performance is more than a few squints into the sun. Overall, this is one of the lesser-known films of the 70’s that for me, turned out to be an emotionally engaging and gritty true-story exploring the human condition, freedom and conviction.




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