Dark Portals, the Vidocq movie

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Apr 6, 2013

Though none have really approached “major motion picture” status, three or four of the great detectives profiled in Brilliant Deduction have been the subject of at least one TV or film production. Given that most of these have been relatively obscure, I didn’t get around to viewing any for my book, but I have had it in mind to look for some of them and make notes here on the blog. Top of the list was Vidocq, a 2001 French production released to anglophone markets (only on DVD, so far as I know) as Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidocq. Recently I finally got hold of a copy and gave it a go.

Short version: I enjoyed it, and would probably watch it again, but it’s strange.

I suppose I should begin further comments from the perspective of my book, i.e. a nonfiction examination of the great detective. From that perspective there isn’t a lot to say, though; I’ll get to what the film is in a bit, but it is not really about the historical Vidocq to any considerable extent. The plot involves a series of murders in Paris, in 1830, investigated by a detective named Eugène François Vidocq. And the filmmakers were clearly aware of Vidocq’s real history; Gerard Depardieu manages to look more than a little like the few extant portraits of Vidocq (though the leather coat seemed odd, a bit more suited to The Matrix one might think, of which more later). And occasional hints of Vidocq’s real life and career turn up as asides: his origins as an informer; his quarrels with the prefecture of police; his experiments with blood chemistry, and paper. The filmmakers obviously had information about Vidocq.

They just didn’t do much with it. All of the details of the real Vidocq’s history are incidental; the character’s significance is never directly explained and the movie could easily have been made with no reference to Vidocq whatsoever. I’m not sure why it wasn’t, though IMDb’s trivia offers a hint, at least. It suggests that “The original on-spec screenplay by David Fakrikian featured Vidocq[‘s] origin, adapted from the 1967 TV series by Georges Neveux and Marcel Bluwal … but was rejected when the producers failed to obtain the TV series rights.” Apparently there was a 1967 television series about Vidocq, then, and apparently this somehow locked up the rights to the 19th-century Memoirs of a real historical person. Right, then. Anyway, that’s a little about what Dark Portals is not, and why; now for what it is and why I liked it anyway…

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