Nathalie (Marie Gillain) is a “professional flirt”. Every night she’s out to get phone numbers of rich French “playboys”, who might get her a job (or not). Eric (Olivier Sitruk), her boyfriend, dreams of going to the United States and making a lot of money. To get there he needs a starting capital. Hey! Why not rob one of Nathalie’s wealthy contacts? Sounds like a plan, but it seems that none of the horny bourgeois keep their money in safes anymore. How far are Eric and his buddy Bruno (Bruno Putzulu) willing to go for a fistful of francs?
Bertrand Tavernier’s Fresh Bait (original title: L’appât) is a French crime/drama based on Morgan Sportès 1990 novel by the same name. It starts more or less like a lighthearted comedy, but progressively gets darker as the characters decide to make some dumb choices that obviously will get them into a lot of trouble. When we first meet Nathalie she is a hopeful young woman, hardworking and trying to get something more out of life. When we meet her boyfriend Eric, he and his best buddy are re-watching Brian De Palma’s Scarface for like the 20th time.
In fact movies play a big role in this film and are referenced throughout, especially American movies. Fresh Bait is commenting on how we (as a society) have come to believe movies and what they teach us. We follow them blindly, but where does it lead us? Both Nathalie and Eric are very brand conscious. The level of name dropping and brand awareness is almost as high as in The Bling Ring. Both characters seem very materialistic, which is ultimately why they get caught. Their friend Bruno on the other hand, just gets caught up in all of this, because he’s friends with them.
Unlike most films from the 2010s (like Spring Breakers) in Fresh Bait the director seems to put a lot of emphasis on the fact that it doesn’t end well for the characters. The characters get what they deserve and yet that’s still not entirely satisfying. Throughout the film there’s a theme of machismo. Some of the characters are very misogynistic and treat women like you don’t often see in a movie anymore. Nobody is ever directly punished for it however. I’m not saying that the filmmakers are condoning this kind of behavior, but it is a tough film to watch sometimes.
Again though, this just goes to show how unsexy the criminal lifestyle really is, like in something à la The Wolf of Wall Street. Unlike ‘Wolf’, Fresh Bait repeats itself and gets rather monotonous for a portion of its runtime. The fact that the characters simply get caught at the end makes it sort of a standard film. While the first act is very promising and you’re on board with the characters (when things are still “legal”), it gets more and more difficult to side with them, once they become murderers. But maybe that’s exactly the intent of the film.
7 out of 10