A French Return to Thrillers

While Gallic crime films have often involved existential gangster themes — think Melville’s “Le Samoraï” or Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player” — the success of recent films like “Tell No One” and “Point Blank” suggest France is again the home of the policier, an earlier popular genre. Though the style is one Americans would often call noir, the term generally used by French cineastes is polar, which encompasses both police and detective genres.

Two excellent new imports, “Nobody Else But You” and “Sleepless Night,” play with genre conventions in different ways.

Sexy, witty, and full of clever cinematic in-jokes, “Nobody Else But You” is a deliriously delicious mystery. Blocked crime novelist David (Jean-Paul Rouve) sees the frozen corpse of Candice (Sophie Quinton) — a local model, who believed herself the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe — being removed from the snow where her body was found. He is oddly bewitched and comes to suspect her suicide was actually murder. Bruno (Guillaume Gouix), a hunky, perhaps queer, local cop, warns him not to investigate. Then diaries — and suspects — start piling up and things get really mysterious.

Is David falling in love with the deceased? Did the fragile Candice, so beloved by fans, have a real enemy? Will David become the next victim? And why is Bruno inviting David to clandestine meetings at the sauna on nudist Thursdays? The whodunit may be the least interesting aspect of this dazzling film — and yet the story packs a bit of a surprise.

“Nobody Else But You” brilliantly explores issues of reality, identity, celebrity, and reinvention. The film is less about generating thrills and more about keeping the characters — and viewers — off kilter. Everyone has something to hide, and as David slowly strips away the façades, this multilayered masterpiece becomes even more intriguing.

In an email exchange, director Gérald Hustache-Mathieu explained why he wanted to tackle the noir genre.

“The thriller aspect is just a backdrop to this film,” he wrote. “Genres are interesting because they give me what I need –– one structure, with codes. Genres contain myths and are a part of cinema history. It’s fantastic for me to feed my own story with that. The New Wave era filmmakers were playing with the codes, too. Genre reflects back the image you want to find.”

Hustache-Mathieu talked about the way his approach to film mirrors other contemporary artistic trends.

“If I try to explain more about the way I approached making tropes ‘fresh and new,’ I could talk about ‘remixing’ and ‘sampling,’” he wrote. “It’s not very interesting to ‘copy’ or to use too directly ‘tropes and staples.’ But it’s very productive to try to remix them… Like in the Hip Hop music. Why not apply this to cinema? It’s not about ‘homage’ but about robbery! I use a part of something to make it a new composition. Like ‘collage’ in painting, too. ‘Recycling’ is a good thing to use to find a new freedom in the work. But I’m not the first one — ask Quentin [Tarantino].”

NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU | Directed by Gérald Hustache-Mathieu | First Run Features | Opens May 11 | Cinema Village | 22 E. 12th St. | cinemavillage.com

This week’s other policier, “Sleepless Night,” is a pure adrenaline rush. Vincent (Tomer Sisley) is a cop involved in a dirty caper gone awry. During a drug heist, he got the bag of cocaine but also a nasty stab wound. When Vincent’s son is kidnapped by drug lords, he must think and act fast to return the drugs — which have gone missing — and recover the boy.

Set almost entirely in a vast nightclub, “Sleepless Night” features clever plot turns and fast-paced action sequences. And heartthrob Sisley will keep viewers’ hearts racing during the few moments when the action antihero stops to catch his breath.

In a recent interview with Gay City News, Sisley, an award-winning comedian who does his own stunts, discussed “Sleepless Night.”

“I’m not sure they are popular again,” he said when asked how he felt about the renewed appeal of French thrillers. “They don’t do as well as comedies in France.”

The actor was modest about his unique skill set, which involves crackerjack timing for both comedy and action.

“Action heroes make poor comedians,” Sisley said, explaining his character in “Sleepless Night” was not meant to be a wiseass like Bruce Willis.

“What I was interested in was not trying to be cool,” he said about his character. “I was not playing a cop or a thief, but a mediocre father. Everything comes from that. There’s no coolness in him, no one-liners, which I love. He’s someone who made a bad decision at some point in his career and pays for it now. That’s how it becomes a dark, noir movie — because there’s nothing cool in that. The guy doesn’t run faster than average. When he runs, he sweats. He falls when he runs too fast down stairs. He makes wrong decisions, hiding the gun where he does. He gets his ass kicked the same way you would get your ass kicked. He’s driven by this energy of this emergency of the situation. That’s what I like about the character, that’s what makes him strong.”

Still, the wiry actor is also physically strong. There is brutality in his strong-arming of a female Internal Affairs officer (Lizzie Brocheré).

“That was the most difficult scene I had to shoot,” Sisley said. “She was the last person on set I wanted to hurt. It looks real because we went for it. I did twist her arm — not enough to break it, but enough to hurt her.”

Sisley reluctantly agreed when pressed for demonstration, but quickly got physical.

“I have to grab you and instead of going like this,” he said, pressing his forearm hard against my throat, “I go here,” just below my chin. “You cannot pretend. If you pretend, it looks shitty. You have to be physical.”

In fact, Sisley is all about being physical and keeping in good shape. He practices Jujitsu, Krav Maga, and other self-defense techniques.

“I go skydiving, I go car racing, I do all these martial arts, scuba, I love all that shit,” he acknowledged. “I’m a helicopter pilot. I do wind tunnel flying, parasailing. I like all this action. I feel very comfortable with it.”

That shows. The actor choreographed the film’s intense fight scene in the nightclub’s kitchen.

“The big challenge there was to get my co-star to feel comfortable enough to really push me and understand he has to do it — it doesn’t look real otherwise,” he said.

In “Sleepless Night,” Sisley is simply poetry in motion. Well, except for one scene, where he dances his way across the crowded nightclub to escape from some killers.

“I think I’m a very bad dancer,” he said with a laugh. “That’s one thing that I would love to learn.”

SLEEPLESS NIGHT | Directed by Frédéric Jardin | Tribeca Films | Opens May 11 | Village East Cinema | 189 Second Ave. at E. 12th St. | villageeastcinema.com