Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Mister V.



France 2003 : Emilie DELEUZE : 90 mins

Mister V. had its UK premiere in London on October 31st, 2003  – the very same day that, across town at Warner Brothers West End, a rather more elaborate film named after its four-legged equine subject galloped into town. Even without this (perhaps not-coincidental) quirk of scheduling, it ’s very tempting to describe Mister V. as the  “anti-Seabiscuit ” – although Mister V.* is a fictional, non-thoroughbred European showjumper and Seabiscuit was a real, thoroughbred American flat-racer.

Deleuze ’s arthouse  ‘horse opera ’ is much closer to the film and play of Peter Shaffer ’s disturbing Equus than it is to Gary Ross ’s Oscar-bait uber-inspirational tale of odds-upsetting underdogs. Her unsentimenalised tone is appropriate, given that her eponymous anti-hero is such a truculent brute, the unwitting subject of an insurance scam cooked by by unscrupulous Luigi (Patrick Catalifo) and Belgian breeder Moigne (Jean-Louis Richard). Having  ‘bid up ’ his price between them an auction, the pair intend that a fatal  “accident ” should befall the pseudo-valuable horse in Luigi ’s stables.

When Mister V. displays startling potential as a jumper, however (in a silent, transcendent moment he unexpectedly comes sailing over a high breeze-block wall) Luigi starts to have second thoughts. He ’s also swayed by the wise counsel of his his brother Lucas (Mathieu Demy, son of legendary Lola auteur Jacques), a scientist specialising in equine physiology, who finds Mister V. a fascinating case study in animal power. But events are to take an unexpectedly tragic turn …

It ’s at this point that Mister V. the movie reveals its true character. After the noirish, crime-drama opening act, the film takes a left-turn to cover much more original turf. Deleuze explores of the relationship between man and horse  – specifically a man and a horse, but things don ’t develop as we expect  – thankfully, this isn ’t some Gallic variation on The Horse Whisperer. Mister V. calms down a little, but not much (in UK horse-racing terms, he ’d still get a Timeform double squiggle). A sufficient bond is established for the stallion to join amateur tap-dancer Lucas in what amounts to a six-legged dance routine  – that this scene, which sounds laughably ludicrous on paper, works as such a deliciously tense and believable sequence on celluloid is a testament to the skills of Deleuze, her cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bouyer and, especially, her editor Mathilde Muyard.

Muyard effectively assembles  ‘Mister V. ’ in the editing-room, cutting together footage of seven different horses into an utterly convincing  ‘performance ’  – Seabiscuit, by contrast, was played by eleven horses, not all of them the same colour. The snorting, stomping, nostril-flaring Mister V. is effectively the villain of the piece  – his appearances generate the scary atmosphere associated with the best horror-movie killers, although he ’s by no means a one-dimensional presence. His dangerous charisma does much to counterbalance the film ’s occasionally over-sedate pace and the bumpier plot convolutions, such as Lucas ’s prickly dealings with his brother ’s wife Cecile (Aure Atika) and stable-hand Jean-Francois (Gerald Thomassin). Another definite plus is the Rudolphe Burger ’s guitar score, which nimbly captures the atmosphere of this corner of tranquil, slightly old-fashioned France.

20th November, 2003
(seen 31st October : National Film Theatre, London  – London Film Festival)

* The horse ’s name ends with a full stop, indicating the prononciation  “Mister Vee ” (in French,  “Meestair Vey ”). Without the full stop, the name would mean  ‘Mister the Fifth ’ and simply be pronounced  “Mister. ”

click here for a full list of films covered at the 2003 London Film Festival

by Nicholas Arcane