Paris Under Watch (Aux yeux de tous): Film Review

Surveillance footage thriller reveals both the allure and limitations of its premise.

Directed and written by first-time filmmaker Cedric Jimenez, the sporadically gripping but otherwise generic terrorist thriller seen (almost) entirely from the viewpoint of surveillance cameras and webcams.

PARIS -- Applying a French twist to the recent slew of found footage movies, Paris Under Watch (Aux yeux de tous) is a sporadically gripping but otherwise generic terrorist thriller seen (almost) entirely from the viewpoint of surveillance cameras and webcams. High on concept but low on characterization and any sort of emotion, this freshman effort from writer-producer Cedric Jimenez (Eden Log) should ride on the coattails of Chronicle, Paranormal Activity and the like to see modest local returns and decent offshore ancillary.

An opening scene from the POV of a security camera in Paris’ Gare d’Austerlitz reveals much of what’s to come: A bomb goes off in the crowded train station, killing nearly 20 people and setting off a city-wide manhunt for the perpetrators, who are suspected to be Islamic fundamentalists. But then the image of the attack rewinds, controlled by an unknown hacker with skills to match those of Lisbeth Salander, and it soon becomes clear that there’s more to the bombing than meets the eye.

Thus ensues a wild goose chase across hundreds of CCTV and web cameras as the hacker tracks two suspects: a down-on-his-luck janitor, Sam (Olivier Barthelemy, Sheitan), and his cop girlfriend, Nora (Melanie Doutey, The Actress’ Ball). We eventually learn that the couple is mixed up with Otar (Francis Renaud), a shady officer at the make-believe Estranian Embassy, and as we follow the three throughout a maze of apartments, hallways, elevators, alleyways, metro stations and buses, the plot twists and turns into a network of revelations that will surely please the most ardent of conspiracy theorists.

Based on a script by Jimenez and co-writers Audrey Diwan and Arnaud Duprey, the film tosses out a few neat surprises early on, only to be undone by a concept that makes it awfully hard to attach oneself to the characters, who are viewed mostly through the cold light of a fisheye video lens. Only the anonymous hacker – depicted in subjective close-ups – manages to generate some emotion, as he comes to realize that his manipulative games have veritable human costs outside the Webosphere.

Once the cinematic gimmick wears away, what’s left is a plot worthy of a B-level TV series and a few well-handled suspense sequences, especially a parking garage shoot-out that makes fine use of off-camera spaces. DP Leo Hinstin (L’Amour Fou) definitely has a field day with all the obscure angles and set-ups, while hardworking editors Marie-Pierre Renaud (Female Agents) and Nicolas Sarkissian (Them) tie the footage together in a way that’s both coherent and occasionally intense.

Soundtrack by Julien Jabre and Michael Tordjman (who worked on the new Madonna album) uses pulse-racing beats to keep the tensions high, although such excitement never really carries over to the performances: But what can you really do when – as is the case with Doutey – your pivotal scene is shot from the perspective of an ATM?

Opens: April 4 (In France)
Production companies: Le Cercle, Direct Cinema, Lorette Productions
Cast: Melanie Doutey, Olivier Barthelemy, Francis Renaud, Feodor Atkine, Valerie Sibilia
Director: Cedric Jimenez
Screenwriters: Cedric Jimenez, Audrey Diwan, Arnaud Duprey
Producer: Cedric Jimenez
Executive producers: Alain Monne, Marion de Blay
Director of Photography: Leo Hinstin
Production designer: Emily Poncet
Music: Julien Jabre, Michael Tordjman
Costume designer: Agnes Giudicelli
Editors: Nicolas Sarkissian, Marie Pierre Renaud
International sales: Films Distribution
No rating, 79 minutes