Friday, 3 September 2021

Le Prix du Danger

Yves Boisset's Le Prix du Danger is wonderful, a French language adaptation of Robert Sheckley's short story The Prize of Peril that does a far better job of simulating the sweaty, urban, desperation felt in Stephen King's 1982 novel The Running Man than Paul Michael Glaser's brawny blockbuster. Where Glaser's pass dialled into the hugely entertaining proposition of Arnold Schwarzenegger battling through Gridiron fullbacks and pro wrestlers to clear his name, Boisset forces his hero into direct opposition with society itself. Once he's passed an ultra cynical casting call and a life-or-death test of his daredevil acumen, Gérard Lanvin's Jacquemard is delivered to a distant high rise then given four hours to make his way back to the television studio hosting the show. If he makes it back he'll win a sizable cash prize, a necessity since this future-shocked France is clearly churning its way through a prolonged economic depression. 

Jacquemard is pursued every step of the way by a team of bloodthirsty hunters, also recruited from the general public. Jacquemard, the idealised everyman, is prized by the show's slimy producers for his rugged good looks, an arrogant demeanour that sees him stomp off mid-audition, and his whiteness. The onscreen murder of a black contestant would be bad publicity for the television channel, we are told. Marie-France Pisier's up-and-coming producer Ballard believes Jacquemard, an ex-solider with an otherwise uneventful background, has the star power required to drive up her ratings. Conversely, the pistol packing chasers are a collection of creeps and bullies - a taxidermist, a motorway toll collector, as well as an off-the-boil mad man who boasts about trying to force confrontations in the dead of night just so he can shoot someone. The sole woman in the squad - apparently a first for show - is an embittered fantasist who openly talks about instantly taking against Jacquemard simply because he's handsome. She just knows that he has used his lifelong hold over women to hurt and reject them. 

This reactionary contingent extends out into the city Jacquemard must now traverse. Although most residents of this near future Paris - rendered with an Iron Curtain chic thanks to a Serbian location shoot - cheer the runner on, there are those that go out of their way to ruin this suicidal attempt at solvency. Jacquemard is first accosted by a gang of drooling punks who block his path then rough him up, all while the jet black Mini Coopers that the hunters drive draw near. Not long after escaping these aggro teens and a hail of bullets, Jacquemard make his way onto a building site where the night watchmen corner then set their dogs on the injured contestant, forcing him into a caged lift. Unlike the Samaritan characters who stand to win white goods or similarly mechanical prizes for helping Jacquemard, a clear incentive is never detailed for the people who wilfully make themselves obstacles. Presumably they are, essentially, nascent examples of the misanthropes and sociopaths who volunteer their services to a televised game show, on the off chance that they then get to flay a drowning man with a length of chain. 

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