Mesrine: Killer Instinct, Jean-François Richet, 113 mins, (15)
Home, Ursula Meier, 97 mins, (15)

Vincent Cassel puts in a mesmerising performance in this breathless biopic of France's most infamous bank robber

There were only six months between Kill Bill: Volumes One and Two, and six weeks separating the two halves of Steven Soderbergh's Che.

But the releases of Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One leave you even less breathing space. A pair of biopics which race through 20 years in the life of Jacques Mesrine, France's most infamous bank robber and jailbreaker, both films are in cinemas this month, just three weeks apart. Each instalment is an invigorating blast in its own right, but it's best to see them both in quick succession. You'll not only feel as if you've experienced an authentic gangster classic, but you also may get over the disappointment of this summer's other true crime thriller, Public Enemies.

The films are an astounding showcase for Vincent Cassel. Appearing in almost every scene, he gains three stone over course of the four-hour saga, as Mesrine develops from a small-time housebreaker to a Robin Hood-like anti-hero. Mesrine is, by any reckoning, a very nasty piece of work, but Cassel plays him as a mercurial clown who swaggers through marriage, fatherhood and armed robberies with the same lust for life, red-blooded machismo and simmering energy. We might not forgive his crimes, but we want to keep on watching them.

At the start of Killer Instinct, he's a dutiful young soldier who's ordered to shoot captives in cold blood while serving in Algeria in 1959. Returning to Paris, he's keen to start afresh, but he drifts into what he euphemistically describes as "off-the-books work" to cover his poker losses.

Soon he comes into contact with a magnetically loathsome godfather named Guido, played with relish by a gravel-voiced, yellow-toothed Gérard Depardieu. Under Guido's wheezing tutelage, Mesrine grows ever more audacious, eventually teaming up with a thrill-seeking prostitute (Cécile de France) to form a Gallic answer to Bonnie and Clyde, and becoming an unlikely hero of the Quebec Liberation Front.

On first viewing, Mesrine: Killer Instinct can be frustrating. There are dozens of enthralling heists and shoot-outs, fights and seductions, but instead of settling into a steady narrative, with a sustained central plot, the film keeps whisking you on to the next explosive episode. Only once you get used to this breathless structure can you enjoy it for what it is. Based on a memoir which Mesrine wrote in prison, Killer Instinct is the equivalent of a page-turning autobiography that skips to the most scurrilous anecdotes without pausing for reflection.

Not that the episodes are unconnected. One linking thread is Mesrine's search for a father figure, a substitute for the père he despises as a weakling and a Nazi collaborator. Another theme is that Mesrine is a product of his economic and social surroundings. Despite the subtitle, his killer instinct could easily have lain dormant if it weren't for a series of redundancies. It's only at the very end of the film, after a spell in Canada's most inhumane prison, that he commits himself wholeheartedly to death-or-glory criminality. As for what happens then ... well, anyone who sees Mesrine: Killer Instinct will be relieved they only have to wait three weeks to find out.

This week's other French-language gem is Home, the debut feature from a Swiss documentarian, Ursula Meier. Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet star as a happy couple who live with their three children in a house far from any others, on the edge of a beautiful rolling meadow. After establishing what a playfully affectionate bunch they are, Meier shows us, in the first of many splendid surprises, that they're not quite on the meadow's edge, after all. Just a few feet from their front door, an unfinished motorway stretches for miles in either direction. It's the proverbial elephant in the room. The road has been abandoned for a decade, so the children cycle and play hockey on it, no longer even noticing how surreal their situation is.

Then comes the fateful fleet of construction lorries. A new layer of tarmac goes down; white lines are painted; barriers are bolted together, and suddenly four lanes of solid traffic are thundering past Huppert's house every day. It's an absurd scenario, but for all the unforgettable weirdness of the imagery, Home remains a sharply observed, believable portrait of an ordinary family.

Compassionate, bright, and bracingly unpredictable, it's reminiscent of Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard, but it also has the spirit of an Ealing comedy. Huppert and her brood are like the plucky heroes of Passport to Pimlico, eccentrically determined to live life their own way, even as the modern world bears down on them. It's only in the film's final stretch that the tone turns dark and apocalyptic. By the end, the motorway isn't just a motorway; it's any inescapable, inexorable destructive force – or perhaps it's just change itself.

See it – but don't take the car.

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering