Thomas Salvador, both the director of and the titular character in Vincent, has delivered an unusual but ultimately hollow variation on the superhero narrative with his debut feature. That’s not to say his film isn’t interesting or valueless, in fact at times Salvador makes a salient case for why films of this ilk should continue to be made; there’s stock in the temporal mythmaking, the mesh of realistic setting and extraordinary human endeavour is compelling almost by default, and the pursued outsider is a narrative trope with infinite possibility; Hitchcock just hung fantastic dialogue on it and called it a movie. Vincent suffers in kind, through its inability to hang anything of note around its skeletal plot.
Vincent is a laborer who moves from town to town in search of work, though said towns must be close to a lake, river or ocean. This is because he develops superhuman strength when he is covered in water, which explains his proclivity for jumping into lakes fully clothed. In one country town he meets a fellow laborer (Youssef Hajdi) who offers him work and a place to stay. Through this man he meets Lucie (Vimala Pons), a sculptress who promptly falls for him, and whom he confides in regarding his special power. We’ve reached about the halfway point in the movie now. The actual inciting action, that he uses his powers to stop a fight in a workplace and something goes wrong, doesn’t actually occur until the second half of the film, and what follows is basically an extended chase scene. As a result, Vincent tends to feel like it’s narratively treading water; its first 20 minutes are indulgent and overlong, comprised mostly of shots of Vincent swimming in bodies of water juxtaposed with the boredom of his day job, it ruminates on a very simple set of ideas that it fails to really expound upon. The intentional, yet still frustrating, narrative restraint is lifted by Alexis Kavyrchine’s impressive landscape cinematography, who manages to capture a strong sense of place in these small towns.
Accusations of Vincent being a vanity project can’t entirely be ignored, in spite of the fact that Salvador spends most of the film in dirty bodies of water. Every short film he has made that is listed on IMDb stars him in some capacity, he delivers a one-note charisma-lacking performance in his own film and he cast a much younger woman as the love interest who seemingly falls for him based on physical attraction; the character of Lucie so poorly fleshed out so as to feel like less of a real person than a conduit for Vincent becoming less boring to watch.1 What’s concerning as well regarding character is that, whilst Salvador employs a somewhat interesting approach in tending to quickly move through time and development, all of the interrelationships between characters seem utterly unreal; Youssef Hajdi’s character gives Vincent a place to stay, finds him work in a town that despite its size must have a lot of work for the both of them, and happens to be close friends with Lucie as well so that all future scenes of mass social interaction feature him in the background.
This is as much an issue of narrative construction as budget. Vincent is clearly a low-budget film, as evidenced in the decision not to invest in any actual special effects for Vincent’s powers. Instead Salvador uses in-camera tricks and reverses footage, a clever idea that in practice looks utterly amateurish.2 Only partially because of this distracting visual element, each scene of Vincent diving into water to re-charge gets more and more cumbersome to watch, Salvador clogging up the film’s runtime by having Vincent prolong an already joyless chase scene by detouring to ponds and fountains.
That chase itself, the only point at which the film feels like it’s moving forward, runs almost entirely on logic rather than spectacle, hence the recurring jumping in water throughout. It’s in keeping with Salvador’s commitment to visual realism but in the editing it feels like he’s aping Tati without any of the visual imagination or wonder. He evades the French police in the town for a good fifteen minutes, at which point all sense of tension has utterly dissipated. This reduction of any real sense of engagement is what mars Vincent, with a strange sense of pacing and longevity, it takes what amounts to maybe 40 minutes worth of film and pads it out to a dull 78.
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