Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Papillon (2018 version) (4 Stars)

This is the true story of Henri Charrière, nicknamed Papillon (the French word for butterfly).  In the 1930's he was a successful jewel thief. He double-crossed his boss by keeping some of the jewels from a job for himself. In retaliation his boss framed him for murder. He was found guilty and given a life sentence, which he has to spend in a work camp in French Guiana.

Papillon makes friends with a fraudster called Louis Dega, who has managed to smuggle a large amount of money into the camp. Papillon protects Dega from the bullying of the other prisoners in return for Dega financing their joint escape.

The film takes place in the good old days before human rights were invented. The prisoners who aren't strong enough to work die, and nobody seems to care. There are repeated scenes of guards dragging away dead bodies. The punishment for attempting to escape is two years in solitary confinement for the first attempt, five years for the second attempt. The punishment for killing someone in prison, an inmate or a guard, is execution by guillotine. To me that seems like an act of mercy.

Overall, the film is depressing. Every time we think Papillon is about to escape there's another setback. The only thing that keeps him going is his friendship with Dega.

This is the second film adaptation of the autobiography of Henri Charrière, written in 1969. It was first filmed in 1973, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. I can vaguely remember watching the film many years ago. It's technically incorrect to call the new film a remake. Only films made with an original screenplay can be remade, because then the second film is based on the first. In the case of a book both films are simply based on the same book.

The film gripped me from beginning to end. I felt anger welling up inside me against the French government for allowing this sort of treatment. After watching it I've been strengthened in my support of the death penalty. Long imprisonment is inhumane, even when it's not as bad as in France in the 1930's. Execution as punishment is a good solution. The cruellest possible punishment is a delayed death penalty, i.e. a death sentence passed by court which isn't carried out for a long time because of a series of appeals which are destined to fail. Death sentences should be carried out within a month of being passed.

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