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Review - we follow French director Luc Besson into the surreal and stylish world of the Paris Metro

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Image credit: Eurogamer

- Luc Besson Producer - Luc Besson / François Ruggieri / Louis Duchesne Starring -   Christophe Lambert   Isabelle Adjani   Richard Bohringer   Jean Reno Filmed - France, 1985 DVD by - Gaumont

Christophe Lambert putting on the charm


Luc Besson is one of the few French directors to make it big in America in recent years, bringing us a string of stylish action movies including "The Fifth Element", "Nikita" and "Léon". But the first of his many movies which I saw was "Subway", a surreal trip through the Paris Metro starring Christophe Lambert, later to make his name (with an extra "r" for American audiences) in cult classic "Highlander".

Lambert stars as Fred, a loveable blond quiffed rogue who falls for a girl, and then blows her husband's safe when she invites him to her birthday party. "I hate safes", he explains later. With the husband's goon squad on his tail trying to recover the file he stole from the safe, Fred crashes his car into the gates of a subway station and goes to ground in the Paris Metro.

There he discovers a strange world of tunnels and service ducts which is home to a cast of typically bizarre Besson characters, including a rollerskating purse snatcher, a bodybuilder, a florist, and a pair of bungling policemen nicknamed Batman and Robin. Even Besson's favourite actor Jean Reno ("Leon", "Ronin") gets a look in, appearing as the Drummer, who spends most of the film wandering the subway tunnels tapping his drumsticks against walls and tables.

The real star of the movie

Old Style

The film's plot is as labyrinthine as the corridors of the Metro station, and almost as confusing at first glance. In fact it's something of a triumph of style over substance, and the real star of the movie is the Metro itself, from the sterile station to the grimy underworld that lurks beneath it and the colourful characters that inhabit it.

Before long it becomes obvious that Besson cares even less about the stolen files than Fred, who seems to be more interested in forming a band with his new found friends and winning over the girl Helena than in blackmailing her rich husband. Helena herself is trying to escape from her husband as well, stifled by her marriage and bored by his asinine friends.

The middle section of the movie is rather chaotic at times, with Batman and Robin chasing the Skater, Fred gathering musicians for his band, and Helena getting dragged into the world of the subway as she becomes more and more involved with Fred. Somehow it all hangs together though, and Besson pulls in the various plot threads for a neat if somewhat downbeat ending which foreshadows his masterpiece Léon.

Jean Reno attacking his drumkit in the final scene


The whole thing is beautifully shot, with the same attention to detail and sense of the absurd that makes Besson's later films such classics, from the long winding shot of a column of policemen marching down a narrow staircase in perfect time, through to the finale as Fred's band hijacks a classical music festival, Jean Reno laying into his drumkit like a man possessed.

Another long time Besson collaborator getting in on the action is composer Eric Serra ("Fifth Element", "Goldeneye"), who not only provides the movie with a funky (if rather dated) electro-jazz soundtrack that sets the tone almost perfectly, but also puts in a rather camera-shy performance as the band's bass player.

While it lacks some of the focus and punch of Besson's later work, Subway is an entertaining and visually stunning film which is certainly well worth a look. Just don't expect another all-action blockbuster - apart from the car chase at the beginning of the movie there is precious little action of any kind, and only one person gets killed. Surely some kind of record for Besson?

The funky chapter selection menu

The Disc

The best place to get Subway at the moment is from its native France, as the American DVD of the movie suffers from a terrible full-screen transfer, and only features the sub-standard English dubbed version of the soundtrack.

By comparison the French DVD is rather good. The picture and sound quality is spot on, it's presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and you even get a choice of French, English or German sound, with subtitles also available in French, English and Spanish. While the English subtitles don't always provide a literal translation of what is being said, they are usually fairly close.

The disc also features some nice (if slightly long-winded) animated menus which make highly effective use of footage from the film itself, and allow you to select sound and subtitle languages. It also gives you access to an excellent chapter selection menu, which features little thumbnails of the first 30 seconds or so of each chapter looping until you make your mind up and select one.

Apart from that the only extra feature is a collection of trailers for several of Luc Besson's other movies, but as far as it goes it's a great little disc. Highly recommended if you're a fan of Besson or looking for something a little out of the ordinary... Film - 8/10 Disc - 7/10 Availability - - 27.29 euros - 27.19 euros

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