Mr. Wagner is a specialist.
He has been a professional killer for over forty years.
And for over forty years he has practiced his trade with loving pride. An ambiguous but true work ethic guides Wagner's actions. An ethic which is not only genuine, but essential.

When he meets Max, an unemployed twenty-five year old, Wagner believes he has found his successor. Taking him under his wing, Mr Wagner teaches Max all he knows, especially his sense of ethics.

But times have changed ...
And ethics are not what they used to be.

Director's Statement

I made the short ASSASSINS before METISSE. I had already directed two short films, FIERROT LE POU and CAUCHEMAR BLANC before moving on to a feature film. Christophe Rossignon and I thought it would be a good idea to do one more short film. It would be good practice and at the same time we could choose the best technicians to work with when I moved on to METISSE. We chose people who then, for the most part, worked on HATE and ASSASSIN(S).
The short film ASSASSINS was an exercise in style which had nothing in common with the things I was working on at the time.
And then one day I said to myself that it would be interesting to develop the character and the story. That's where the idea for the feature film came in.

When I started to realize that I wanted to make films, when LeE DERNIER COMBAT came out and other films from the great period of cinema in the eighties, films by Sam Raimi, Carpenter, de Palma, Spielberg, Scorsese, I discovered an entire era of films in the magazine "Starfix" which provided me with sustenance in my youth. The magazine was put together by guys older than me, but like me, who loved independent films. People who knew Abel Ferrara in the days when he directed DRILLER KILLER, Cronenberg when he mode RAGE, etc. Some of the journalists from "Starfix" left the magazine to try their hand at making their own films, people Iike Christophe Gans and Nicolas Boukhrief.

The year I made HATE I was down in Cannes with Nicolas. I had seen VA MOURIRE and upon seeing the film, I knew that Nicolas was an auteur. He loves the cinema, he's got chutzpa, he's willing to really go for it. Sometimes he misses the mark, but what's interesting is that we can't really distinguish between the things he attempts and fails and the things that work. It was the same thing with METISSE. We started to have a discussion. We talked a little bit about television, the importance of image and at the end of an hour I told him I wanted to see him again in Paris to talk over a project. I said to myself, "something could work out here. He's a genuine cinema-lover and he's got a solid knowledge of the subject."

I made the short with Marc Berman in the role of Mr. Wagner. I was too young to work with people I didn't know at all. Marc was relatively accessible and I felt comfortable with him. The character was much younger than he is in the film today. But from the moment you come up with a character like him, there are live actors in Paris who want the role. There's only one who is perfect for the part - Michel Serrault. And he was the best choice we could have made.

Michel didn't know me and I came in with my script and said, "Here's a man who pisses on himself, he's a murderer, but he's got a kind of work ethic". It's hard to get an actor to accept this kind of thing because it frightens them. At first, he was reticent, understandably so, which was quite reassuring. If he had immediately accepted the script, that would have been a slightly troublesome because it was far from perfect. We talked a lot and tried to explain many things in the script.

With Michel, getting to know each other was an uphill battle. We were supposed to start shooting six months later, alter he had finished making Agnes Merlet's film. And then Chabrol offered him a role for the same dates as ours. That pushed the filming of ASSASSIN(S) to January. Christophe suggested I start production right away. The news came on a Thursday. We decided not to wait and on Monday we were in pre-production with just two months to go. We realized that we were developing the script as we were filming it. It wasn't just talk, it was really true.

I was used to working with friends and young actors. In other words, I could take them by the scruff of their neck and say, "stand here and do this", we could argue and they could talk back to me without any problem. With Michel Serrault, you can't work like that. Anyway, I had the jitters because when you come face to face with Michel Serrault, it's quite an experience. At 29, I am lucky to work with an actor like him on a script which is kind of strange, in a type of role that I've never Seen him act in. I didn't want to botch things up. And I didn't want him to come onto the Set and simply open a door or walk across a room. Or if we were to work like that, then we had to find a motivation and a way of bringing it to life. So, there was constant pressure. I had to find a way of talking to him because he is a genuine actor who doesn't allow himself to be completely manipulated. You have to allow him some free reign and the ability to express himself. And because I wanted to prove myself or to say, "I am present, I am the director, I'm not afraid of you, I can give you some suggestions", I gave him some directions before the first shot, which wasn't the thing to do. I had to find a different rhythm of working.

The most enjoyable moments were when we stopped everything. Together with Michel, we thought about what needed to be changed and how. A lot of scenes were changed like that. Some of them were transitional scenes which then became important scenes, scenes which develop the theme of the film. For example, the scene in the car after the murder in the woods is strange because it is so different from what was originally written. Michel took over because I was falling asleep. It was the end of the production and until the very last shot, Michel continued to work hard. And that's where I learned a lot because he is guided by a professionalism above and beyond many actors I know. He is conscientious with regard to his traft. It's something very simple, but very powerful. He is someone who needs space to breathe and that's what is interesting.

Director's Biography

- as director -
1990 - FIERROT LE POU, short
1990 - PEUPLES DU MONDE, video clip
1991 - CAUCHEMAR BLANC, short
1992 - ASSASSINS, short
1993 - METISSE
1994 - LA HAINE
1997 - ASSASSIN(S)

- as actor -
1993 - METISSE
1997 - ASSASSIN(S)

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Mathieu Kassovitz

Written by: Mathieu Kassovitz, Nicolas Boukhrief

Produced by: Christophe Rossignon

Cinematography: Pierre Aim A.F.C.

Editing: Mathieu Kassovitz, Yannick Kergoat

Production Design: Philippe Chiffre

Make-Up & Hair: Sophie Benaiche

Original Score: Carter Burwell

Cast: Michel Serrault (Mr. Wagner), Mathieu Kassovitz (Max), Mehdi Benoufa (Mehdi)

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 1997