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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Foreign > French > La Femme Nikita (MGM DVD)

La Femme Nikita


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: A-



The year 1990 does not seem that long ago, but upon revisiting La Femme Nikita there are certainly many things that have changed in the realm of action adventure.  Assassins and hit men are no strangers to the world of cinema.  Often times there are gaps between American cinema and the rest of the world, but some directors have managed to make successful films in both outlets.  Luc Besson has certainly been one of them, despite having only a handful of films over the past few years La Femme Nikita was his first true hit. 


A few years after La Femme Nikita, Besson would take Jean Reno (who plays a hit man in La Femme Nikita) and use that single character for his lead part in Leon the Professional (1994).  These two films have similar trademarks, which is mostly comprised of their stylish look and fierce action scenes. 


The storyline is pretty simple on top in that we have a female delinquent mixed up in a world of being a junkie and vandal.  Upon being arrested and sentenced to a life prison term, she is rescued by an agency that wishes to train her to be a killer and work for them.  In return she will be released and her life sentence will be rejected.  Right away there is an interesting paradox that is incorporated as we have a ‘terrorist’ who in the so-called right hands can be used for good.  As studied in Stanley Kubrick’s ingenious film A Clockwork Orange (1971), there is a unique relationship between authority and violence.  Violence is only bad when it is in the hands of evil people, yet evil people can be ‘reformed’?  Reformed and be used for more practical uses such as …killing?  A strange world we live in indeed! 


Just a few years prior to La Femme Nikita, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) would also take a look at using violence to control violence.  More importantly that film addressed the issues of what happens when bad people have control over good things.  There is a certain gray area when it comes to right and wrong, which La Femme Nikita never explores that issue fully, but the fact that it is on the fringes of this makes it all the more noteworthy.  Notice for example the fact that Nikita tries to live a straight life after being released.  She understands that she might be called into duty to serve her country at any time, yet she attempts to make a life.  She falls in love and becomes a regular person.  In her mind she has let go, but her body is still that of a killer, a trained killer. 


The Terminator series (especially the latest T-3) explored with good direction the idea of someone/something being trained to kill, but still having more humanistic qualities such as love or caring.  The Terminator is trained to kill, but is programmed to kill only certain targets.  Nikita is a human though, despite being trained as if she were a robot.  Since she has these qualities she can moral or amoral sometimes without even flinching.  As a female she is emotional, which is why in comparison to Leon the Professional, she becomes more attached to things such as love.  Leon on the other hand knew only the absence of love and things like emotion were foreign to him. 


There have been three region 1 releases of La Femme Nikita onto DVD over the past few years.  First there was the basic Pioneer edition, which presented the film with a poor non-anamorphic transfer and a 4.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack.  Then M-G-M took over the rights and released a much better anamorphic widescreen DVD with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, but they forgot the supplements.  If two times are not enough, then you must try again, so finally M-G-M revisits La Femme Nikita giving the same transfer as the previous DVD and releasing the film with both the English and French audio tracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Not only that, but this time around we have supplements therefore deeming this a ‘special edition’. 


Although the 2.35 scope image does not look bad for this film, there are certain limitations that show off the films age at times.  Darker scenes certainly seem to suffer the most.  Although the picture does not have a digital look, it does have a drab analog look that is really evident during the credits, which are done in red. Video red is extremely hard to pull off and when it looks bad…it really looks bad!  This is exactly the case here as the reds are bleeding, so do not think that your vision is suddenly allowing you to see double, it’s the transfer!  One would wonder why M-G-M would not have cleaned up this picture in order to compete with some of the other better looking DVD’s on the market, but instead they opted to go for recycling the older dated transfer. 


The two 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are good, but not great.  There are definite limitations with the range from the mix.  They are identical with exception of the actual dialogue.  The film certainly makes more sense in its original French language though, but more Americans have become accustomed to seeing this film with the dub track, which has caused for a larger more concrete fan base with this film and would allow for Besson to emerge as a more successful director in the states with films such as Leon the Professional and The Fifth Element (1997). 


Thierry Arbogast created an interesting look for this film, which would become a trademark as the relationship between him and director Besson went on for a few more films after this.  Together they would deliver a very stylized look for La Femme Nikita that would carry over in their film Leon the Professional, which would once again use Jean Reno as a ‘cleaner’ AKA hit man.  Reno would be the lead man in that film as a professional assassin who ends up babysitting a young girl caught in the crossfire of a dysfunctional family and a world of drugs and corruption. 


Also adding to the feel of a film like La Femme Nikita would be Eric Serra’s interesting programmed score, which sounds very studio produced.  Unlike using a symphony or live musicians, the score consists of many rhythmic synth driven pieces, that certainly give the film a pulse very in touch with the late 80’s, which would mark this film as a transition piece of that era of music ending and a new one beginning.  As the 1990’s came along musical scores became more involved with ‘soundtracks’ that focused more on particular pop songs rather than actual music arrangements, especially in the action/thriller genre.  Serra’s score holds up well even over a decade later.  Besson and Serra have a strong working relationship that has lasted now over 20 years.


The supplement section is good, but very misleading as well.  There is a small section on the music used, which is a basic interview with Eric Serra who comments on why he chose to do the score this way and why it worked.  This portion is good to scroll through at least once.  The other section is a 20-minute reflection piece on La Femme Nikita, including most of the cast in brief interviews, which outlines the film rather well including how each member became associated and how they feel now looking back at the film.  Once again this is quite brief, but still adequate.  Besson adds nothing to this section.  There is also a photo gallery, which is more like two stills from the previous cover art for the film, which is very disappointing!  The other section that is bizarre is this so-called interactive map, which takes you to a menu screen that allows you to choose three scenes.  One would expect these to be a thorough examination of these scenes, but rather it cuts back to footage that was used from the reflection piece that has little to do with those scenes anyway.  Not only is this confusion, but also superbly dissatisfying! 


La Femme Nikita has become a close attachment to many American viewers; enough to even start up a TV series in 1997, which lasted until 2001.  Who would have thought that a female assassin would have worked out so well for a TV show?  Then there would be the truly terrible attempt to remake this film entitled Point of No Return (1993, John Badham), starring Bridget Fonda.  Less so of a remake would also be Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), which demonstrated the toughness of one really cool Geena Davis, despite some of the films cliché’s.  M-G-M has brought forth a third and yet still mediocre presentation of this film, but what matters most is that the film is available with some supplements that most fans will enjoy, despite their briefness or confusing nature.  Perhaps one day we shall see this film released yet again with an upgraded picture and even DTS 5.1 audio, which will certainly be good considering Leon the Profession is now part of Columbia TriStar’s Superbit editions giving that film all the graces of a pure audio/video transfer with a DTS 5.1 mix that film will finally shine.



-   Nate Goss


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