SplitScreen #001: Mesrine – L'Instinct De Mort

A new category initiated after being rather impressed with the use of split screens in the recent two-part French crime thriller/biopic about bank robber Jacques Mesrine, directed by Jean-François Richet and written by Abdel Raouf Dafri.

Here, at the beginning of the first film, L’Instinct De Mort, we have a tense scene (and for good reason) with Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) and his girlfriend Sylvie (Ludivine Sagnier). They’re making a bolt from a safe house whilst the police dragnet tightens around him; just how tight is not immediately clear, but soon it will be.

To ratchet up the tension in what is a very short period of time, but which feels much longer, Richet doubles up pretty much everything in the first scene, to overload the viewer with a sense of surrounding, of movement, to put the audience in the place of Mesrine and Sylvie, noticing every little thing as they make their way from the flat to the car. He films both Mesrine and Sylvie individually as they each make their way out, and by presenting both these personal versions of the same event, and by switching between different takes, he can, as director, artificially (but authentically) give an impression of how two people’s experience of the same event can diverge.

Hence, here we have, side-by-side, the identical same moment, with Sylvie up front, recceing the street, with Mesrine behind, using her as pathfinder and lookout. On the left is ‘Sylvie’s experience’, with her in focus, on the right is ‘Mesrine’s experience’, with him in focus. All through the scene there is this skittish jumping between the two – not as point-of-view shots, but more subtle, not-quite-objective versions of the same sequence.

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