A Gang Story (2011) starring Gérard Lanvin and Tchéky Karyo, is The Godfather (1972) transposed to rural France. Director Olivier Marchal’s thriller is a violent and visceral depiction of a group of mafia’esque criminals and their intricate dealings and relationships.
Edmond ‘Momon’ Vidal (Lanvin) and Serge Suttel (Karyo) have grown up together, after meeting and becoming close friends at school. Banged up in prison whilst young men after being caught by the police for petty theft, they become involved in the criminal underworld – a dangerous culture of gang warfare and lucrative bank raids.
But that was all in past. Vidal is now a wealthy man – older though not necessarily wiser. He has tried (to an extent) to put his criminal past behind him and now lives a life focused on his family and enjoying the fruits of his ill-gotten gains. But once a gang member always a gang member and after he gets news that his old friend Suttle has been arrested, he risks his and his families lives to help him. However there is more to Suttle’s arrest than meets the eye, and Vidal finds himself again caught up in the vicious infighting of southern France’s crime families with bloody and catastrophic results.
This film like the people it depicts is tough stuff, Marchal’s screenplay holding nothing back in its interpretation of the true-life book by Edmond Vidal. If it was any other kind of story one might doubt its authenticity, claiming that the opulence of the character’s present-day lives and the hard-core violence which frequently litters the proceedings is too far fetched to take seriously. However knowing through news-reports and historical records of the way mafia-like gang members live and conduct their business, the film has an underlying feeling of reality which seeps beneath the viewer’s skin.
The lasting impression of the film, apart from the visually stunning settings of rural France and the vivid way it captures through flashback Vidal and Suttel’s early life during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, is the feeling of the strength family and religion have within the culture it depicts. As with many gangster based scenarios those involved seem perfectly at ease with unbelievable acts of cruelty and viciousness which most ‘normal’ people would find abhorrent, yet are equally loving to their families and religiously devout.
Taken as a whole, though A Gang Story is often engrossing, the viewer may, like Vidal, find his sordid past hard to stomach.