Robert Mitchum Is Dead (Robert Mitchum est mort): Film Review

Inconsequence, pastiche and occasional charm in reference-packed road-movie that travels to polar circle

A '50s-era score, Olivier Gourmet's fine performance as a down-at-the-heels and increasingly desperate entertainment manager and several moments of genuine charm keep this ramshackle affair afloat

PARIS — Fans lured to this movie by the name of the great Hollywood star in the title are going to be disappointed. Mitchum is quoted in an early insert — his reflection to the effect that if Rin Tin Tin can become a movie star, so can anyone — but that is the closest he comes to being a presence in the film. Debut directors Olivier Babinet andFred Kihnhave produced a road-movie in the vein of Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law that has moments of charm but often smacks of self-indulgence. Packed with movie references and dealing to some extent with the nature of filmmaking itself, box-office prospects for Robert Mitchum is Dead (Robert Mitchum est mort) are minimal but its quirkiness may bring it a cult following among niche audiences.

The story hinges on a depressive Z-list actor called Franky (Pablo Nicomedes) and his manager Arsene (Olivier Gourmet) who, in a last-ditch bid for fame and fortune, set off in a stolen car to travel to a mid-summer film festival inside the Polar Circle. The objective is to track down the legendary director George Sarrineff (Nils Utsi) and convince him of the bankability of their latest project. Along the way they pick up Douglas (Bakary Sangare), a mysterious traveler sporting a sculpted Afro haircut and given to gnomic utterances, and stop off at the Lodz Film School in Poland where Franky enjoys a brief idyll with actress Katia (Danuta Stenka).

A non-exhaustive list of the references and self-proclaimed influences in the movie would include Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismaki (whom the directors did indeed try to track down at the Midnight Sun Festival at Sodankyla, in Norway's Far North), David Lynch, Jean-Luc Godard, B-movies, zombie movies, rockabilly music and its punk off-spring psychobilly.

The story doesn't add up to much and a lot of the action and dialogue is inconsequential. Its point appears to be to build up to Sarrineff's punchline "Nowadays, movies are made by pharmacists" — a direct quotation from the late director André de Toth well past its sell-by date.

What the movie does best is pastiche. Franky and Arsene's fondest possession is a clip from a supposed classic film noir entitled Fatal Angel(think: Mitchum in Angel Face), which is played or acted out three times during the film. Etienne Charry's 1950s-style score is a constant pleasure and helps, along with Gourmet's fine performance as a down-at-the-heels, manic and increasingly desperate manager, to keep this ramshackle affair afloat.


Opens: In France: April 13

Ferris & Brockman, Studio Agart (Poland), Panache Productions (Belgium), Sweet Films (Norway)

Cast: Olivier Gourmet, Pablo Nicomedes, Bakary Sangare, Danuta Stenka, Andre Wilms, Nils Utsi, Wojtek Pszoniak

Directors/screenwriters: Olivier Babinet, Fred Kihn

Producer: Igor Alexis Wojtowicz

Director of photography: Timo Salminem

Music: Etienne Charry

Editors: Yann Dedet, Thomas Marchand

Sales: M Appeal

No rating, 91 minutes