Vidocq (Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidocq) (2007)
Vidocq (Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidocq) (2007)

Genre: Fantasy and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: January 2nd, 2007 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Pitof Actors: Gerard Depardieu, Guillaume Canet, Ines Sastre, Andre Dussollier, Edith Scob, Moussa Maaskri, Isabelle Renauld




t’s been too long since the likes of such a visually arresting production as “Vidocq” hit cinemas. Overflowing with unique camera tricks, cutting-edge special effects, and arresting imagery, writer/director Pitof brings to life a nightmarish fantasy that recalls the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s finest collaborations. And it’s also an action movie to boot, blending multiple genres into a wildly uncommon, mythical biography of the father of modern criminology.

The chronicles of Eugene Francois Vidocq begin in 19th century Paris, with the titular detective hunting down and facing a mysterious mirror-masked figure in a black cloak. When the infamous sleuth (Gerard Depardieu) is defeated and thrown into a fire pit, the city is enraged over his demise. The police are unable to solve the murder, so a young writer named Etienne Boisset (Guillaume Canet) confronts the late detective’s partner, Nimier (Moussa Maaskri), claiming to be Vidocq’s selected biographer. Insisting on solving the case himself to expose the murderer, Etienne begins a personal investigation into Vidocq’s last assignment by retracing the detective’s steps and ruthlessly questioning all involved. His journey forces him into a depraved underworld of vicious serial killers, deceptive maidens, and treacherous foes – an environment he’s not fully prepared to emerge from unscathed.

The first feature-length movie to be shot completely on High Definition film, “Vidocq” is a nonstop barrage of spectacular images amidst a morbidly deviant vision of 1830’s Paris. Every corrupted persona caricatures their villainy through skewed appearances, warped by lenses that intrude on arched brows, flared nostrils, and gnarled grimaces. Extreme close-ups and fisheye distortions are the norm for the unflinching portals (specifically, Sony’s CineAlta). Likewise, fresh gimmicks surround every movement of the primary antagonist (the Alchemist), with his refracting visage in particular generating numerous haunting illusions. As if a macabre update on the black/white costuming motif of ‘30s gangster flicks and Westerns to differentiate good from bad, there’s simply no mistaking evil here through this explicit photographing style. Even beauty, though scarce in Pitof’s grim fairy tale, is as distorted and exaggerated as the reflections in the Alchemist’s chromium face (save for Vidocq’s gorgeous professional companion Ines Sastre, as Preah).

The editing and camerawork, regularly augmented by bizarre cuts and unconventional shots, nicely complement the character designs, themselves embellished by the picturesque locales and masterfully constructed set pieces. Crumbling buildings, cracked cobblestones, muddied streets, and bloody skies enhance the fear and paranoia consuming the Paris gangland. Of all the brilliantly grisly locations, the most horrifying is the Alchemist’s lair, littered with chains that hang from the ceiling (not unlike Clive Barker’s distinct visualization of the netherworld from “Hellraiser”), while flames flicker and fight for life, surrounding a rickety staircase that spirals upward into the shadows. Though many visually intricate films suffer from an uninspired story, this is not the case with “Vidocq.” It’s largely dependent on its look and style for a sense of individuality, but a moderately rich, thrilling mystery (rife with the kinds of jaw-dropping twists and turns that might sour a second viewing) will reward any moviegoer daring enough to venture into this savage realm of masked killers, tortured souls, and brutal revenge.

– The Massie Twins

  • 7/10