Wild Target - French comedy hits the mark, but stars’ deaths make it poignant too

Pierre Salvadori’s droll 1993 black comedy Wild Target (Cible émouvante) gets a timely DVD issue this month to coincide with the arrival in cinemas of its British remake.

Bill Nighy stars in the new movie, playing a fastidious 55-year-old hitman whose orderly life is turned upside down by Rupert Grint’s bumbling delivery boy and Emily Blunt’s unscrupulous con artist.

The splendidly lugubrious Jean Rochefort is the uptight assassin in the original French movie and his deadpan demeanour is a delight. 'My name is Victor Meynard. I am 55 years old. I am a professional killer,' is how he sums himself up at the start of the film.

The words are spoken to himself and they are in English – he is learning the language from a cassette, just the first of the film’s dryly quirky touches. (Nighy, of course, is learning French in the remake.)

Meynard is a buttoned-up, finicky loner who labels his food according to the day on which he will eat it, keeps plastic covers over his furniture and dutifully visits his mother in her retirement home. Ignore his profession for a moment and he’s another anally retentive bourgeois whose existence is begging for disruption.

Wild Target - Jean Rochefort’s assasin hires Guillaume Depardieu’s delivery boy as his assistant in Pierre Salvadori’s droll black comedy from 1993

That comes after he uncharacteristically allows two strangers into his life. First he decides to take on as his apprentice the delivery boy (Guillaume Depardieu) who has just witnessed one of his killings. And then he bizarrely develops qualms about bumping off Marie Trintignant’s blithe thief, who has just conned a Corsican gangster by selling him a freshly painted fake Rembrandt.

Instead, Meynard becomes her protector, the gangster hires a second assassin (a role played by Martin Freeman in the remake) and a darkly comic farcical intrigue ensues, as does an odd but tender romance between uptight killer and breezy thief.

Wild Target retains its charm almost two decades on, but the premature deaths of Rochefort’s two young co-stars in the intervening years gives the film an unexpected poignancy. Trintignant and Depardieu – both the children of iconic French actors – met sad ends.

Trintignant, daughter of Jean-Louis Trintignant (star of Un homme et une femme, Z and Three Colours: Red), died from a skull fracture in 2003 following a violent argument with her rock musician boyfriend.

Depardieu died of pneumonia in 2008 aged 37 after a turbulent life marked by drink and drugs, spells in prison, bitter estrangement from his famous father, Gérard Depardieu, and the amputation of his right leg following a motorbike accident.

The pair’s tragic fates put Wild Target’s dark comedy in perspective. Does it sour the film’s neat ironies? Perhaps. But I can still enjoy watching Depardieu and Trintignant in their youthful prime.

Wild Target (Cible émouvante) is released on DVD on 21st June.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.