Mesrine: L’instinct de mort

Mesrine: L’instinct de mort
𝐝𝐢 𝐉𝐞𝐚𝐧-𝐅𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐨𝐢𝐬 𝐑𝐢𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐭 (𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟖)

The first part of a two-part film series dedicated to the life of Jacques Mesrine, France’s most notorious post-war criminal.


“There are no heroes in crime, only men who refuse to accept the law. Some may say there are other ways to live, but I had no choice.”
(Jacques Mesrine)

Jacques René Mesrine

This character, nicknamed “the man of a thousand faces” or “the French Robin Hood,” is the son of wealthy fabric merchants.

In his childhood, he began frequenting the Pigalle neighborhood in Paris.
Rebellious at school, he was expelled from the secular high school in Clichy for repeated violence against the principal.

After marrying and adopting the son of a young chemistry student, he participated in the Algerian War, where he was decorated with the Cross of Military Valor.

This experience profoundly affected him, given his alleged involvement in the “corvée de bois” (summary execution of Algerian prisoners).

Upon returning to France, he discovered a love for weapons and took part in several armed robberies and burglaries. He married Maria de la Soledad and had three children.

Arrests and imprisonments began for him, first in Neubourg, where he was preparing a heist, then in Évreux and Orléans.

For a brief period, he left his criminal career and wished to change his life.
He obtained a legal job in an interior design studio, but a staff cut forced him to lose his position, and Mesrine once again chose the path of crime.

In 1965, he was arrested again in Palma de Mallorca and imprisoned for six months. In the following years, he attacked a jewelry store in Geneva and robbed a hotel in Chamonix before fleeing to Quebec in 1968.

There, he partnered with a prostitute, Jeanne Schneider. Together, they kidnapped a disabled millionaire, Georges Deslauriers, and demanded a ransom of $200,000.

With this last venture, at the end of the ’60s, Mesrine officially entered organized crime.


Richet thoroughly describes a character still very well-known in France today, considered an icon of counter-power, especially by teenagers.

A loose cannon, at least until the end of the ’60s, the period this first film focuses on.

An anarchist, without a moral code, rebellious against institutions and any form of rules, but also a pathological liar.

Mesrine could be charming and loving with the people he cared about, then exhibit extremely violent behavior.

For instance, on one occasion, he threatened his wife by putting a gun in her mouth to prevent her from calling the police.

The director excellently highlights all these aspects, creating a varied portrait of this contradictory character, avoiding the mistake of turning him into a hero.

Technically, the split screens that appear in the opening titles, showing the protagonist’s last moments of life, are classy and remarkable.

The atmospheres and situations are classic noir, and the tension remains constant throughout the film, both in action scenes and simple dialogues.

Cassel possesses all the “physique du rôle” necessary for the part and delivers one of his best performances.

A challenging but perfectly successful acting job: charisma and charm, but also sudden and uncontrollable bursts of anger and violence.
On screen, he manages to give his character all the soul and energy needed.

Gérard Depardieu, as Guido, the local crime boss, also impresses with his ability to immerse himself in the role.

Public Enemy No. 1 – Death Instinct is a film recommended for everyone, not just genre enthusiasts.
It contains “flashes” of great cinema.

Inspired by Jacques Mesrine’s autobiographical novel “L’Instinct de mort.”

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