Director Olivier Marchal’s latest thriller Gang Story (Les Lyonnais, 2011), starring Gérard Lanvin and Tchéky Karyo, is The Godfather (1972) transposed to rural France. A frequently violent film, it follows the mafia-esque dealings and intricate personal relationships of a south French crime family in visceral and bloody detail.
Edmond ‘Momon’ Vidal (Lanvin) and Serge Suttel (Karyo) have been lifelong friends after meeting and becoming close while at school. Put in prison whilst young men after being caught for petty theft, they become involved in the criminal underworld – a dangerous culture of gang warfare and lucrative bank raids. But that was all in the past. Vidal is now a wealthy man – older though not necessarily wiser.
Putting his criminal dealings behind him he has focused on his family and enjoyed a life of isolated luxury built on the back of his ill-gotten gains. But gang members are never really free and after discovering that his old friend Suttel is in deep trouble, Vidal risks his now tranquil existence to help him. However there is more to Suttel’s difficulties than meets the eye, and Vidal finds himself involved again in the vicious infighting of southern France’s crime families with catastrophic results.
Marchal’s screenplay for Gang Story sugar-coats little in its interpretation of the true-life book by Edmond Vidal. If it was any other kind of story one might question its authenticity, claiming the opulence of the character’s present-day lifestyles and hard-core violence frequently littering the proceedings, stretches credibility to the limit. However, through historical reports of the way real-life Mafia members conduct their lives, the viewer can’t doubt the truth of the film’s underlying air of realism.
Apart from a visually stunning rural backdrop and vivid depiction through flashback of Vidal and Suttel’s early life during the late 60s and early 70s, the film’s lasting impression is its sense of the hold family and religion have within the culture it depicts. As often the case with gangster based scenarios those involved appear perfectly at ease with acts of incalculable violence and brutality, whilst at the same time being equally loving to their families and religiously devout.
Ultimately, though Gang Story makes for an engrossing drama, the viewer, like Vidal himself, is likely to find its retelling of his oft sordid hard past hard to stomach.