Vincent doesn’t look any different from anyone else. He’s tall, lean and has that unkempt look that French guys are able to carry off so easily. When we meet him, he’s sitting on a Paris riverbank with a group of other young people. It’s nothing that would attract the attention of passersby except that they’re all wearing identical turquoise-coloured Polo shirts. Is it a company uniform or something else? A quick cut and Vincent is now somewhere in the south of France. While he’s waiting to hear about a job, he goes for a swim in a nearby lake. It’s there where we learn that Vincent has special power. When he’s in contact with water, his strength increases to the point where he can skip across the water like a dolphin.
VINCENT (the full name of this film is “Vincent n’a pas d’écailles”, or Vincent Has No Scales) is a simple, understated story with little dialogue and long, scenic shots. It’s the brainchild of director and screenwriter Thomas Salvador, who also plays the title character. The film has been called the “first French superhero movie” but Salvador doesn’t see Vincent as a Gallic Aquaman. “Vincent is not a superhero. He’s really just a regular guy who has an irregular power,” he told me when I interviewed him a few weeks back. True, there’s no cape or mask to be seen, nor does Vincent have muscles bulging over every inch of his body.
Vincent knows he’s special but, rather than saving the world, he prefers keeping himself and his secret to himself. That is, until he meets Lucie, a woman who lives in the small town where he found work as a home renovation labourer. Lucie is the first person Vincent has been able to open up to. The scene where he shows Lucie his ability is both amusing and curious. Will she accept him for who he is or will she head for the nearby hills in fear? Will she convince Vincent to use his power for good or for evil?
The story leaves the viewer with plenty of questions and offers up very few answers. Salvador said the big question is not when or how Vincent got the power. Rather, it’s whether he can live in society with that power. “Vincent wants live a normal life with a job and a girlfriend, but he also knows his special ability has been keeping him apart from all these things,” Salvador said.
There’s a tendency with Hollywood films that the audience has to be told a character’s backstory in order to understand him/her better. With VINCENT, the backstory remains a mystery. “We had filmed a scene where Vincent tells Lucie how he developed the power but we cut it out during the editing process,” said Salvador. “We decided to leave it up the audience to decide for themselves what Vincent’s backstory is. Even in real life, not everything is explained so why should movies have to explain everything?”
For Salvador, who received no formal training as a filmmaker, VINCENT is his first feature film. His previous seven films have all been shorts (one, a documentary short). “I knew a wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 14 years old,” he said. I asked Salvador what his special power is. “I’m very patient”, he said. “It took me eight years from the time I started writing the script until the film was released.”
The film has been making the rounds at film festivals from Sydney to Seattle and the audience reaction has been positive. They also like the idea of a French superhero even if the director doesn’t agree with that viewpoint. I asked Salvador if we will be seeing Vincent’s further adventures. “I doubt it,” he said. “I don’t like swimming.”
VINCENT will be screened as part of the 44th Hong Kong French Film Festival (French Cinepanorama). There will be three screenings: November 26th (Broadway Cinematheque), December 2nd (AMC Pacific Place) and December 5th (HK Film Archive). For more information, please visit www.hkfrenchfilmfestival.com.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 34:20.)
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The trailer doesn’t include English subtitles but you’ll get the idea.