The Big Pardon

1982 [FRENCH]

Action / Drama

IMDb Rating 5.8 10 634

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Richard Bohringer as Le 'sacristain' / Sacristan
Alexandre Aja as (as Alexandre Juan)
Blanche Ravalec as Colette
Jean-Pierre Bacri as Jacky Azoulay

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by ElMaruecan82 7 / 10

Not in the same league than "The Godfather" but an interesting immersion in the French "Black Feet" underworld...

Let's start with the obvious: director Alexandre Arcady probably had "The Godfather" in a compartment of his inspiration when he co-wrote "The Great Pardon". You could tell he caught the drift of what made Coppola's film a timeless classic and knew how to adapt it into the fascinating story of a French Sepharadic family from Algeria. But this isn't Hollywood and he didn't have to drain his material from a page-turner written by Mario Puzo.

Indeed, the script isn't exactly the film's stronger suit (despite some juicy one-liners and colorful exchanges) while "The Godfather" is still one of the greatest screenplays of all time. But no matter how superficial the similarities are, spotting them is one of the many delights the film provides us. So I'll go on. Both films are about powerful mafia families lead by a larger-than-life patriarch, they both start with a huge expositional celebration set at peacetime, before greed and gang rivalries break it. And you also have the Mediterranean background elevating values such as loyalty and manhood... tainted with machismo.

Interesting the most notable dissonances from "The Godfather" is the film's best asset. Raymond Bettoun, the Vito from Constantine (Algeria) is a big mouth, a flamboyant towering man who steals the show whenever he's here. His screen-presence is so remarkable that the film almost depends on it. As Raymond, Roger Hanin, a French Sepharadic Jew, native of Algeria, embodies the colorful traits of his community known as "Pieds Noirs" (black feet) with an over-the-top self-assurance that never becomes caricature but makes him closer to Tony Montana than Michael Corleone. But let's have a historical digression.

The "Pieds Noirs" were Jewish people born in Algeria since generations: they spoke Arabic, cohabitated with the Arabs and had a foot in both Arabic and French cultures, they didn't live in the Kasbah but brought the Kasbah in their modern lifestyles. Still, from the Arab standpoint, they were French, and then they were kicked out of the land where their ancestors lived and were buried in to a less than hospitable France, that gave them that ugly nickname. The subject had been handled in Arcady's debut "The Sirocco Stroke", which is to the community what "Exodus" was to the Israeli, telling the story of a "Black Feet" family that abandoned their house, under the ugly blackmail: the luggage or the coffin."The Great Pardon" is the perfect follow-up with a man who didn't only pick the luggage but filled it with paper bills worth millions.

Of course, as Mario Puzo prefaced in his "Godfather" novel (quoting Balzac): behind every great fortune there's a crime and Bettoun reached his status through casino gambling, rackets, prostitution and clandestine boxing matches, which makes him the equivalent of Tattaglia with the personality of Sonny. But he's got the makings of a great tactician as he ensured peace with the Arabs. So we meet Raymond, celebrating the birth of his grandson. The opening part assembles all the cast but unlike "The Godfather", for all its expositional effort, it's hard to tell who holds which position. I knew he was a widower, flirting with a doctor named Carole (Anny Duperey) but I couldn't tell whether Darmon's character was a bodyguard and a nephew. I knew his son was played Richard Berry, who strangely looks like Al Pacino but don't expect him to pull a Michael Corleone during the film.

At the same time, a criminal known as the Saint Cristain (Richard Bohringer) escapes from a police truck in a scene that echoes Alain Delon's escape in "The Sicilian Clan". We learn from the cameo of Robert Hossein (the 'Barzini') that Saint Cristain has sworn to kill him, which will allow Bettoun to take over a casino. But that makes a later scene confusing, as Bettoun and Sacristain seem hostile one to another while it's obvious he owes the family his freedom. The narrative fluidity seems more uncertain in the second act but the "family" atmosphere and the charisma of Raymond Bettoun keeps the whole thing pretty entertaining. The rest of the film is formulaic and you watch it more to enjoy the actors having fun playing gangsters. And that's not bad.

Another strength is in the casting, like Coppola's "Outsiders" it features a whole new generation of actors who'd specialize in "ethnic" roles, such as Richard Berry, Gerard Darmon and Jean-Pierre Bacri. There's also Bernard Giraudeau as the independent criminal whose blue eyes betray his outsider's status. These actors play their part very well though the script doesn't do justice to their talents and insist more on poses and postures than true actions. In fact, the real match for Hanin is Jean-Louis Trintignant as the Javert, the Chief of Police who dreams of incarcerating Bettoun. Trintignant is fascinating as the bureaucratic cop, cold and methodical and with parsimoniously chosen words that flirt with the same kind of racism that generated such a designation as "black feet". He's the perfect nemesis.

The pacing is uneven and the film jumps from one character to another leaving the system of alliances and treasons pretty muddy, Berry has an affair with Darmon's girl and it takes a little while to understand who did who. The plot was complex in "The Godfather" Arcady doesn't play in the same league than the Coppola-Puzo team and makes some scenes hard to understand when they involve characters who were superficially established. There's also a car chase that seems so ludicrous that it betrayed his desire to fill the film with commercial stuff while the material demanded more sobriety. Thankfully, the film recovers near the final act and offers a great showdown and an ending that will recall again "The Sicilian Clan".

"The Great Pardon" isn't flawless but its merit is to show the Black Feet community in a position of power, emphasizing their cultural heritage and showing them as strongly attached to their identity as the Sicilians, and paving the way to other classics such as the "Would I Lie to You?" series.

Reviewed by franzgehl 1 / 10

A boring caricatural gangsters movie

A very bad one : a story with all the stereotypes about jewish Pieds-Noirs. Hanin exagerates his manners and the result is nothing but a very caricatural image of a world that doesn't look like this. The actors themselves don't seem to believe in the movie. Better watch Once upon a time in America in which the jewish society is described quite rightly.

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