The film that started it all. Retitled La Femme Nikita when it was released in the USA in 1991, to distinguish it from the 1988 film Little Nikita. Directed by Luc Besson, it was a hit in France and Britain before arriving in America, where it was less well received initially, though it has since become something of a cult classic. It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.
A Samuel Goldwyn Co. release of a Gaumont production. Director/screenplay: Luc Besson. Cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast. Editor: Olivier Mauffory. Costumes: Anne Angelini. Music: Eric Serra. Production design: Dan Weil. Sound: Pierre Befve, Gerard Lamps. With Jean Reno. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.
Here's the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) summary for the film...
Nikita is a young lady who with two Nihilist friends commit robbery and murder while on drugs. After her trial she is not executed or taken to prison, but to a school for special operatives. She is told that Nikita no longer exists and she will be trained to pay back society for what she has done, as a spy/assassin. She is trained for over two years and with no warning is handed a gun in a restaurant and told to kill the man at the next table as he her handler leaves. (John Vogel.)
This is the review in Variety's Portable Movie Guide...
An absurd, shrill, ultraviolent but soft-centered urban thriller about a pretty, young, cop-killing junkie who's reeducated as a crack secret service agent, with license to kill. Anne Parillaud does her frenetic best to make Nikita something resembling a human being, but she remains a totally uninteresting figment of Besson's blinkered movieland imagination. Jeanne Moreau provides of a touch of class in a small role as an over-the-hill agent who tutors Parillaud in feminine graces. Jean Reno plays a killer with a stone-faced parodic panache.
There are currently 11 reviews included
Born 6 May 1960 in Paris (where she still resides), Anne studied ballet in school and at one time wanted to be a lawyer. But she took a role in Michel Long's L'hotel de la plage during a summer vacation when she was 16 -- and a very successful film career was launched. She became an international star with her performance in Nikita, which won her a Cesar (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for Best Actress. (She took judo lessons for three months to prepare for the part.) Anne then traveled to the US to do several films, including Innocent Blood, in which she plays a vampire. Other films include The Man in the Iron Mask, Map of the Human Heart, A la folie, Une pour toutes, Frankie Starlight and, most recently, Gangsters. She had a relationship with Luc Besson that produced a child; the two broke up shortly after the filming of Nikita was completed. A romance between this intensely private actress and French superstar Alain Delon has also been rumored.
Anne Parillaud (Entertainment Weekly)
"I hate guns, I hate violence, I hate ze judo," avows Anne Parillaud, but you'd
never guess it from the 30-year-old actress' formidable on-screen presence. In
director Luc Besson's thriller La Femme Nikita, Parillaud plays a sleek,
green-eyed assassin for the French secret service capable of pulverizing
male victims at the drop of a diamond-studded earring. Garbed in a sexy black
dress and stiletto heels, accessorized with a .44 Magnum, Nikita is a murderously
seductive antiheroine. In France, cineasts have been lining up for months to see
the gun-toting siren, and she recently picked up a Cesar, the French Oscar, for
Best Actress. In America, critics have hailed her as a modern femme fatale.
"Nikita is someone who doesn't believe in anything anymore -- in life or in people,"
says Parillaud. "In a very extreme way, she reflects what's going on inside us
all." In person, Parillaud strikes the more familiar pose of a typical Parisienne:
"I like dancing, talking with friends, things like that," she says. "It never happens
to me, zis kind of story." The actress, who had previously been in art films (Le
Battant, L'Intoxe) and had never handled a gun, endured three months of judo
lessons and target practice for Nikita. But she isn't practicing her gun-handling
for the English-language remake due from Warner Bros. "I want to make art,"
she insists. "When it comes to commerce, I am not interested." Besides, she
adds, "I am not unique -- the world is full of actresses who could do a part like
Anne Parillaud on Nikita:
"For a while she was in me like a demon. I would do things I normally would not do. She was awkward, depressed, full of despair. But in me there was also a spiritual underline to Nikita. In a very excessive way she is a loudspeaker of the youth of society today. She destroys herself because she doesn't believe in anything on Earth."
La Femme Nikita
Magill's Survey of Cinema
(15 June 1995)
Beautiful young Nikita (Anne Parillaud), a punk junkie killer who is sentenced to life imprisonment, is spared and trained to be an assassin for the state, only to find that she is just as trapped in her newly created life as she was before--still killing in order to survive.
Luc Besson may be the most popular and successful filmmaker in France. His LE GRAND BLEU (1988; THE BIG BLUE) was France's highest grossing film of the 1980's, and LA FEMME NIKITA was France's biggest French-made box-office hit of 1990, as well as the top-grossing foreign-language film in the United States in 1991.
Besson conceived of LA FEMME NIKITA while listening to the Elton John tune, "Nikita," at a time when he was trying to create a film to suit actress Anne Parillaud. Unlike the sentimental LE GRAND BLEU, this film returns to the sleek stylized format of Besson's earlier works, such as L'AVANT DERNIER (1981) and SUBWAY (1985).
Nikita is a member of a gang of junkies. Barely conscious and begging for a fix, Nikita watches her companions rob a pharmacy. The pharmacist (Jacques Boudet) bursts in brandishing a rifle, and is stunned to find one of the intruding gang members to be his own son. The others take advantage of the man's confusion and shoot him, deriving an eerie joy from the kill. They seem to take equal pleasure in firing on the surrounding police officers as in being fired on themselves. When one of the officers finds Nikita under the counter, he mistakes her drug-induced daze for docility and attempts to talk her into surrendering. Nikita puts her gun to the officer's throat and pleads for the narcotics that she so desperately wants. When he replies that they are all gone, Nikita shoots him without emotion and before he can change his answer.
After brutalizing every member of the police and court with whom she comes in contact, Nikita is sentenced to life in prison. She shows vulnerability for the first time when she believes she is about to be executed by lethal injection. While crying for her mother, Nikita loses consciousness. She awakens in a room that is painted white, ceiling to floor, including the furniture. Nikita is puzzled when Bob (Tcheky Karyo) enters, introduces himself, and asks her if she would like to work for the government. It is all too overwhelming for Nikita who, having believed herself to be in heaven, is disappointed to find she is merely in another sort of prison. Bob allows her to sleep a while longer, then returns to explain, gently but firmly, Nikita's situation.
Nikita is in an underground operations center of a French intelligence agency. As far as the police, her family, and any official records go, Nikita died in prison. What Bob proposes is that Nikita agree to be trained as an agency employee, be given a new identity, and spend her life working for the country that could have taken her life but did not. If she refuses this offer, the agency will see to it that Nikita is executed, as was previously scheduled. Reluctantly, Nikita agrees.
The sequences covering Nikita's "training" are fascinating and humorous. Her classes range from marksmanship--in which she needs no training--to computer science--during which she frightens the teacher who would show her how to use a "mouse" by showing him a real mouse. She also learns ballet and martial arts--two subjects that Nikita tends to confuse. The instruction that is initially most foreign and ultimately most enjoyable to Nikita is given by Amande (Jeanne Moreau). Amande supervises Nikita's daily lessons in how to dress, apply makeup, sit, walk, and speak like a lady. In other words, how to take full advantage of her femininity, a quality that has been buried very deep within Nikita for a long time.
All the while, it is Bob who scolds, encourages, inspires, and rewards Nikita's progress. He fights for her when the agency fears that she will never complete her education to their satisfaction. He exchanges her graffiti-covered walls and iron cot for prints of Edgar Degas paintings and tasteful antique furniture. He remembers her birthdays with cakes and candles.
On Nikita's twenty-third birthday, which is also the anniversary of her third year in the agency, Bob takes Nikita out for dinner. It is the first time that Nikita has stepped outside since she was imprisoned for murder. Then a drug-crazed fiend, Nikita is now a beautiful young woman, thrilled by the Paris night, the elegant restaurant, and the gift-wrapped package that Bob presents to her. What Nikita mistakes for a short vacation from work, however, is the beginning of the work for which she has been training. Bob's gift is a gun. As she stares panic stricken at him and at the gun, Bob instructs Nikita to assassinate an enemy of the agency who is dining at another table with his family, then escape through a window in the ladies rest room. Nikita follows her orders, the act of murder as unnatural to her now as it was natural three years before, but when she gets to the window that was described for her escape, she finds it bricked shut.
When Nikita finally returns to the agency, frightened, bruised, but having escaped the victim's bodyguards and made her way back unaided, Bob explains that this evening's events were a test of her skills and, having passed, Nikita graduates. Torn between striking and embracing Bob, Nikita does both, then vows never to let her feelings for him emerge again.
Looking much like a baby bird being pushed out of its nest, Nikita leaves the agency to begin her new life. She is now known as Marie, a nurse in a nearby hospital. Nikita rents an apartment that appears to be decrepit and filthy, and transforms it into a charming and inviting home in a similar way to the transformation that was worked on herself. Nikita's first excursion into the world is a trip to the grocery store, the freedom to shop being more freedom than she has had for years. There she meets the shy, sweet cashier, Marco (Jean- Hugues Anglade).
Inviting Marco to her apartment for dinner, Nikita pounces on him even as he tries to explain that he is not used to being pursued by a woman. While it may seem that Nikita is merely trying to make up for lost time, she really does grow to care for Marco, and he for her. Yet, Marco has no idea where Nikita has come from or what she does for a living. Nikita herself has almost forgotten her immediate past, until one day the telephone rings and a voice asks for "Josephine," the code name that always precedes instructions for an assignment.
As Marco becomes more inquisitive about Nikita's past, Bob intervenes, pretending to be Nikita's uncle, filled with reminiscences about her childhood. As Marco reveals that he and Nikita are engaged to be married, Nikita gazes at Bob with a mixture of pride over how far she has come and longing to explore the feelings that they might have for each other but that their work must prevent them from exploring.
Nikita is delighted to accept a vacation for herself and Marco, supposedly an engagement present from Bob. To Nikita's dismay, however, a voice on the phone in their Venice hotel room asks for Josephine. As Marco calls for his fiancee to hurry with her bath because room service has arrived, Nikita follows the instructions that are given to her over a headset found in the medicine chest. She assembles a rifle that is hidden in various spots around the bathroom and shoots through the bathroom window at a woman stepping into a gondola below. Nikita cries the whole time, then frantically hides the rifle under the soapsuds in her bath just before Marco breaks in to see if she is all right.
As the strain of her new profession becomes greater with every assignment, Nikita finds herself just as trapped in her new life as she was in her old. No longer a slave to drugs, Nikita is now a slave to the state, still forced to murder for her own survival. As Bob and Marco meet to confess their love for Nikita and figure out what she may be planning to do, Nikita is forced to decide whether to keep the promise that she made to Bob three years ago, keep the love that she has with Marco, or abandon them both and take her chances on yet another life--one of her own making.
Besson's impressive cast works well together. Perhaps this is because Besson wrote each part to fit the actor, especially the challenging title role for Parillaud, whom he wished to rescue from the mindless starlet roles for which she was becoming known. When he began to write the part of Amande, Besson claims to have heard Moreau's voice in his head saying the lines. Besson delights in casting against type, having Karyo, seen in L'OURS (1988; THE BEAR, 1989), play the reserved and intense government agent, and Anglade, known in France for more serious roles, as the playful and devoted lover. All the elements combine to make a thriller that is comic and touching, as well as exceptionally thrilling. (Reviewed by Eleah Horwitz.)
Country of Origin: France and Italy
Release Date: 1990
Gaumont and Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica; released by the Samuel Goldwyn Company
Director: Luc Besson
Cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast
File Editor: Olivier Mauffroy
Production design - Dan Weil
Sound - Pierre Befve - Gerard Lamps
Costume design - Anne Angelini
Music - Eric Serra
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 117 minutes
Nikita - Anne Parillaud
Bob - Tcheky Karyo
Marco - Jean-Hugues Anglade
Amande - Jeanne Moreau
Victor - Jean Reno
Chief of Intelligence - Jean Bouise
Ambassador - Philippe du Anerand
Interrogating Officer - Roland Blanche
Chief Grossman - Philippe Leroy-Beaulieu
Rico - Marc Duret
Pharmacist - Jacques Boudet
Boxoffice. April, 1991, p. R-23.
Chicago Tribune. April 3, 1991, V, p. 3.
Commonweal. CXVIII, June 1, 1991, p. 372.
The Hollywood Reporter. March 14, 1991, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times. CC, March 15, 1991, p. F16.
The New Republic. CCIV, May 6, 1991, p. 26.
New Woman. XXI, April, 1991, p. 30.
The New York Times. March 15, 1991, p. B9.
Rolling Stone. March 21, 1991, p. 86.
Variety. April 5, 1991, p. 10.
Video Review. XII, October, 1991, p. 104.
The Village Voice. March 12, 1991, p. 52.
The Wall Street Journal. March 14, 1991, p. A16.
The Washington Post. April 4, 1991, p. D9.
Studios named in Production Credits:
Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica
Samuel Goldwyn Company
(awards won are in bold)
Cesar Awards (France)
Best Director (Luc Besson)
Best Actress (Anne Parillaud)
Best Cinematography (Thierry Arbogast)
Best Editing (Olivier Mauffroy)
Best Music Written for a Film (Eric Serra)
Best Production Design (Dan Weil)
Best Sound (Michel Barlier/Pierre Befve/Gerard Lamps)
Most Promising Actor (Marc Duret)
The Golden Globes (USA)
Best Foreign Language Film
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists
Best Director, Foreign Film (Luc Besson)
Awards of the Japanese Academy
Best Foreign Film