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MGM Studios DVD presents
La Femme Nikita (1990)

"There are two things which have no limit: femininity, and the means of taking advantage of it."
- Armande (Jeanne Moreau)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: November 06, 2000

Stars: Anne Parillaud, Tchéky Karyo, Jeanne Moreau
Other Stars: Philippe Leroy, Jean Reno
Director: Luc Besson

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (Violence)
Run Time: 01h:57m:14s
Release Date: October 17, 2000
UPC: 027616853882
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ AA-A- C-

DVD Review

While perhaps not as prolific as some other directors, Luc Besson's filmography contains a set of distinctive pieces which have earned him a very devoted audience. Although his subject matter wanders all over the map, from deep sea free diving (Le Grande Bleu aka The Big Blue) to historic heroines (Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc) to intergalactic mayhem (The Fifth Element) he does seem to have a fascination with assassins, as of his eight films, La Femme Nikita (aka Nikita) and Leon (aka The Professional) both center on the profession. There are many constants in Besson's work, such as composer Eric Serra's contributions to the score, and Jean Reno's appearance in most of Besson's films. For Nikita, Besson took the talents of Anne Parillaud , who plays the title role (and whom he subsequently fell in love with), and wrote a story that was the antithesis of her real life character.

After a botched robbery which ends with all of her accomplices dead and herself brought up on charges for murdering a police officer, Nikita's difficult behavior sends her into a secret program run by the government instead of prison. To the rest of the world she is dead, complete with the burial ceremonies, but in the hidden complex where she now finds herself, she has but one option—become an assassin for the government or join her public image as a dead woman. The transition is not an easy one, Nikita's strong will and defiance of authority put her at odds with the one man who can save her, Bob (Tchéky Karyo). Despite the resistance from his superiors, Bob feels Nikita will make a good weapon for their cause, and as she begins her training, her natural skill becomes apparent. What is less natural is her ability to be feminine, though as she progresses with the program under the guidance of Armande (Jeanne Moreau), she masters all that is put before her. After a true test of her abilities, she is given her freedom, conditional on performing tasks as directed from the agency when contacted.

In her new life she meets Marco (Jean-Hughes Anglade), a man she eventually falls in love with, but her secret past threatens her new found happiness. When the time comes to fulfill her obligations to the agency, she has to learn to balance her covert role while maintaining the appearance of a normal woman in public.

From its opening, Nikita is a very stylish film, and Besson makes the most of his cinematographer, choosing low-angle tracking shots, fluid camera movements, and interesting perspectives for his compositions. The bleakness of the agencies headquarters is emphasized with widely composed two shots, while the tension during some of the action sequences is maintained not only with effective scripting, but by decisive editing to hold the suspense. Serra's score greatly enhances the mood of the film (as they do in Besson's other films), and while the story arc is satisfying, it is not always as expected. Look for Jean Reno as Vincent The Cleaner in a brief cameo (Reno would return as a somewhat different Cleaner in Besson's Leon).

La Femme Nikita was Americanized and remade in 1993 as Point Of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda, and also spawned a television series, but the original far outshines its successors.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 2.35:1 image shows the film grain reasonably well, and the image is significantly better than the previous Pioneer release. The aliasing that plagued the former DVD version is still present in this release in some places, especially in the restaurant scene, though it is greatly diminished overall. For those wondering whether to upgrade to the MGM version, from a side by side comparison this edition is vastly superior, especially on widescreen sets.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This version contains a new 5.1 English mix with a 2.0 French surround track. As this is a French film, my first concern is the difference in that soundtrack, and this release is equal to or better than the previous Pioneer release, which had a discrete 4.0 track. The English track is also more enveloping, though I have a very hard time watching this film with the English overdubs. Eric Serra's score is well presented, with rich full range sound, with tight, deep bass. Despite the lack of a discrete French track, it still sounds wonderful.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The disc features a nice, new animated menu system, with the US theatrical trailer as the only extra. It is presented with subtitles in nonanamorhic widescreen.

One issue with this release is the English dubtitles, which are taken from the English script, not translated from the original French. I would have preferred a more accurate translation, despite the fact that watching the film in English with subtitles on would be a bit strange. French and Spanish subtitles are also available. Besson is not a big fan of supplements, so their lack of presence is not that surprising.

The "collectible booklet" contains some production notes and the chapter listing.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

I would assume that many Besson fans already had the previous version of this film on DVD, and as to whether this version warrants an upgrade, I would have to say yes. For the uninitiated, La Femme Nikita is an excellent espionage film, and quite unique for its time. Despite some persisting issues with the transfer, MGM has pretty much delivered the goods on this one.


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