Review: Vincent (Salvador, 2014) – SFIFF 2015

Photo by Laurent Thurin Nal. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

Photo by Laurent Thurin Nal. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

It seems to me that superhero movies have been on an ascendant trajectory for the past decade and a half or so. Every summer blockbuster season brings at least one highly-anticipated flick, if not several; TV shows have been made on the theme; and there’s even been a Will Smith drunken superhero. Now indie filmmakers are starting to get in on the action. Vincent (or Vincent n’a pas d’écailles, translated as “Vincent has no scales”), director Thomas Salvador‘s debut feature, follows the most diffident superhero you’ll ever meet. Salvador, who also stars in the film, collaborated with Rust and Bone‘s screenwriter Thomas Bidegain and Thomas Cheysson (three Thomases!) to create a tale about an itinerant laborer who has an unusual gift: when drenched in water, he achieves superhuman strength, able to lift heavy objects, rip apart metal, and swim at incredible speeds. But shy, scrawny-looking Vincent eschews glory and attention for a serene life. No alter-ego for him–the alter is his only ego. Vincent uses his talents solely for his personal pleasure or convenience, frolicking in the local lake or knocking down a wall on the sly at his construction job after hours.

It is fitting that the lake is where he eventually meets a local girl, Lucie (Vimala Pons), who takes a liking to him. Slowly and sweetly, they fall in love. For a while, at least, life seems as though it can’t get any better for Vincent. But then one day, defending his best friend, he interferes in a work-related altercation and finds himself on the run from the authorities. Here the film takes a baffling turn back toward the conventional, treating us to a low-budget chase scene and remaining thereafter mostly an action movie, albeit a relatively free-spirited one.

Initially, I was very much drawn to the idea of an indie superhero film. I was interested to see in what ways the filmmaker would flout tradition and in what ways he would bend to it. I’m afraid, however, that Vincent flouts rather timidly and bends precisely where it shouldn’t. It’s true that it probably provides a more realistic portrayal of what happens when an ordinary person possesses extraordinary powers, but what it gains in verisimilitude it loses in entertainment value. And then what it eventually tries to make up in entertainment value ends up cheapening its earlier credibility.

Nonetheless, there is a soaring playfulness about the film. When Salvador asks the questions, What would it really be like if a truly common person, one of us, had a superpower? Would we not simply try to enjoy it? And would we not, over and over again, betray ourselves, our secret, in the name of helping someone we cared about? Isn’t that somehow ultimately heroic? he does it with wide-eyed joy. Vincent eschews much of the angst and high drama of the classic superhero flick for a simpler yet somehow more life-affirming tale. That in itself is respectable.

Vincent screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival this past spring.