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Now stalwarts of American cinema whenever filmmakers need a suave European character, real-life couple Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci made this frenetic French action movie in 1997, but with a relatively small budget, how does it stack up against the Hollywood blockbusters?

Dobermann

Feature


Based on a series of crime novels by author Joel Houssin, Dobermann begins with the genesis of the main character. At his christening, Yann (aka Dobermann) is given a .357 Magnum by his uncle as a present, then we fast forward via one of the many clever scene transitions to Dobermann (Vincent Cassel) robbing a security van with his girlfriend Nat (Monica Bellucci).

Pursuing Yann, Nat and their colourful band of thieves is a bumbling bunch of police officers, held in contempt by Inspector Cristini (Tcheky Karyo) and his sidekick. After the entrance of Karyo’s character, it becomes clear that the good/evil roles are played in reverse. We are encouraged to root for the thieves rather than the police. This is a film where getting away with it is the intention, not to stop the ‘bad guys’.

The basic premise is very simple: the robbers plan a heist, get away with it, then the police track them down and engage them in the nightclub owned by Yann’s uncle. That’s it really. The fun comes with how director Jan Kounen takes advantage of this setup. As a result, Dobermann could be accused of being a victim of style over substance but in my opinion the director’s techniques are not overused and enhance the viewer’s experience. Freeze-frame, slow-mo, CGI, split-screen, POV, tracking shots and hand-held shots are all used sparingly where appropriate.

Dobermann
Dobermann has been criticised for its violence and even banned in its uncut form in some countries. The violence is frequent and sometimes brutal but always has a comic book feel to it. For example, the police gunfire in the nightclub shootout is shown as long white lines, which gives the impression that the images have been lifted directly from the pages of a comic book.

The film is filled with neat touches. Monica Bellucci’s character is deaf, which could so easily have been turned into a cliché on a par with having a pregnant woman in a hostage situation, but instead it is used as clever plot and stylistic devices. It gives Nat an edge over the police in the nightclub scene and also allows moments of silence as a timeout from the action. Jan Kounen thumbs his nose at the French film industry in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of a character wiping his arse on a page from film publication Cahiers du Cinema.

The performances are generally adequate, with the exception of Tcheky Karyo who steals the show. He revels in creating a completely obnoxious character and it’s clear he’s having a great time playing the bad guy, whether he’s throwing babies around or torturing witnesses.

Dobermann
You may be forgiven for thinking “Oh no, a French action film, I bet everyone stops to talk about the meaning of life half way through” but you’d be wrong. The structure is very similar to the typical Hollywood action movie and it’s surprising an English language remake hasn’t been attempted yet. It is targeted at a French audience with a knowing nod to Brits and Americans, with some English lines thrown in and references to Trainspotting and the 1998 remake of Godzilla. It’s a good solid action movie with plenty of original touches and my following comments shouldn’t put you off checking it out. It certainly has at least if not more to offer than Hollywood movies with a budget ten or twenty times the size.

Video


The film is presented in non-anamorphic 16:9 and I have to say the video quality is not much of an improvement over the VHS version, which I suspect was produced from the same master copy. The subtitles are burned onto the picture and, especially during the opening credits; it is obvious that the sides have been chopped off the picture.

Dobermann
In general, the video quality is low and suffers from high contrast in parts which makes the subtitles difficult to read during brightly lit scenes. There is a lack of edge enhancement which is most evident when the characters are standing with sunlight behind them and the whole film needs a good clean up. When watching this film after a better quality DVD or even a decent quality digital TV broadcast, it can occasionally feel like watching a film that someone has recorded with a camcorder in the cinema.

Audio


Unfortunately the audio quality is no better. According to the DVD case, the feature is presented in Dolby Pro Logic. As is the case with the picture, the audio quality is not much better than the stereo VHS release. The whole track is muffled and it is most difficult to understand the dialogue of off-screen characters.

Dobermann has an incredible soundtrack. The film is an over-the-top mix of gunfights and car chases with thumping music. It’s a shame the soundtrack is hidden somewhere in here and it would take a lot of work to find it again.

Dobermann

Extras


You have to wonder why they bothered. First of all there’s the lazily produced theatrical trailer, which is the equivalent of watching the film in fast forward. Then there are the filmographies, which consist of a list of films that the main stars and director have worked on. The slideshow is made up of ten stills from the film.

The oddest extra of all is the film review. Rather than providing a review of the film (in this case by one Billy Chainsaw) in a booklet, you are forced to read it on a page that scrolls too slowly, accompanied by a mix of techno music and sound-bites from the film. Even though this package was produced in the early days of DVD, it’s still a sorry set of extras.

Dobermann

Overall


An ideal after-the-pub movie for those who don’t mind reading subtitles, Dobermann is exciting, funny and rewards repeat viewings and it undoubtedly deserves more comprehensive treatment on DVD than this Tartan release currently offers. The audio really isn’t up to scratch, the video quality isn’t much better and the supply of extras isn’t worth bothering with. A 5.1 soundtrack and a clean anamorphic picture are now expected as standard on a DVD release and if there are any movies that need a double-dip then Dobermann is near the top of the list.


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