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    5. How a wacky French shark thriller took over Netflix


    How a wacky French shark thriller took over Netflix

    Scene from the film “Beyond Paris” Photo: Sophie Gheysens/Netflix

    Something fishy about the countdown of the 10 best Netflix films in this month. Amidst the traditional melee of thrillers, chillers and fillers, the streamer's most-watched film leaderboard features the signature outline of a dorsal fin accelerating in the surf. Shark mania has arrived on the mother ship of revelers – in the unusual form of a French eco-parable, directed by a former collaborator of Jean-Claude Van Damme.

    Beneath Paris is a simple film that asks a simple question. What if a mako shark swims up the Seine, starts snacking, and then disrupts preparations for the Paris Olympics by crashing a triathlon and eating all the swimmers?

    The answer is if things end badly for the swimmers – and Netflix subscribers are in for the glory days that have made “Beyond Paris” a worldwide streaming success since its release last week. Forget about Mad Max spin-offs or another Planet of the Apes. The hit movie everyone's talking about this summer is a micro-budget feast straight out of Netflix in which a group of pesky eco-warriors become bonus dinner for a hungry predator. This Taylor Swift-era blockbuster tour of guilty pleasures is popular, ubiquitous and somehow grandiose.

    Directed by Xavier Gens, Under Paris is everything you'd expect from an A-grade film. It appeared without any fuss (because no one is actively waiting for minor films – they should suddenly rise from the depths). It's sometimes bloody, consistently stupid, with enough plot holes to accommodate one of the police patrol boats having come unglued in the last 30 minutes.

    And best of all, he takes himself completely seriously. It's a key ingredient in any so-bad-it's-good movie. There's no shortage of bad shark movies that know they're bad shark movies – like the entire Sharknado franchise. However, “Beyond Paris” is considered to have a serious message about humanity's detrimental impact on the environment, which makes the subsequent absurdity all the more useful.

    Director Gens is not a carnival barker. He worked on the acclaimed action film Gangs of London and was shortlisted for the Cesar Award (French Baftas) for the 2019 coming-of-age drama Papicha, which he co-produced. The talent extends to the cast: star Bérénice Bejo was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and a BAFTA for 2011's The Artist, written and directed by her husband Michel Hazanavicius (for which he won an Oscar “as best director).

    < p>Under Paris is set in a polluted corner of the Pacific Ocean, where researcher Sophia (Bejo) attempts to tag a shortfin mako shark. Oddly enough, all the environmental vandalism has apparently caused the shark to mutate and become both super-sized and super-intelligent. After it eats Sophia's husband, she bravely (that is, foolishly) dives and is then dragged into the inky depths by the beast, where she mysteriously experiences a sudden change in pressure and swims to freedom.

    Years later, she continues to live in Paris. Or at least it would have been if the shark had not made its way up the Seine, where it excavated the catacombs beneath the city and sired millions of baby sharks. Sofia is told all about this by smug environmentalist Mika, who wants to track down the shark and save it.

    Oscar nominee Berenice Bejo plays a researcher. Photo: Niete Rodriguez/Netflix

    Even before the shark returns to the screen, Beneath Paris is a glorious mess. How can a sea shark survive in fresh water? Because the pollution has reset his metabolism. Meanwhile, the environmental message is skewed by the fact that the eco-warriors Sofia comes into contact with are highly annoying – and are punished for being annoying when a shark eats them in a scene played for both blood and laughs.< /p>

    Then there is the Olympic Games angle. To highlight Paris's readiness for the games, the stubborn mayor is promoting an exhibition triathlon, starting with 1,000 swimmers down the Seine. She is unmoved when Sofia and an NCIS officer inform her that a giant shark is frolicking around looking for dinner. The swim will continue, she insists, in the style of the mayor from Jaws.

    There are plenty of other gloriously stupid set pieces. For example, the opening sequence under the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a real-life miasma of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean made up of microplastics that covers an area of ​​1.6 million square kilometers (about three times the size of France). It was under this layer of garbage that Sophia's husband and his crew were outwitted by a huge shark that swam by, and then – who would have thought? – suddenly becomes aggressive and eats them all. Further silliness awaits us as the shark picks off the triathlon competitors one by one without any of the other swimmers seeming to notice, and then crashes into the viewing platform, causing the assembled dignitaries to immediately lose their balance and run headlong into the water.

    Scene from the film “Beyond Paris” Author: Sophie Gheysens/Netflix

    Although the mayor's name is never revealed, Parisians will see her as a wink at the controversial incumbent, Anne Hidalgo, who has caused a backlash for her drive to turn the French capital's sprawling sprawl into a controversial “15-minute city” – prompting claims that the city's wealthy hipsters are being favoured over the lower-middle-class people who work in the suburbs. To quote one opposition politician: “The poorest section of the Parisian population are not those who enjoy Hidalgo's bike paths and spend their nights partying on café terraces.”

    It would be going too far to suggest that the shark in Under Paris is a metaphor for the city in 15 minutes. Although, given the fate of those pesky environmentalists, who knows? – but Hidalgo's promise to cleanse the “stinking” Seine of pollutants ahead of the Olympics is certainly drawing comparisons with her reckless on-screen counterpart. She vowed to swim in the newly cleared Seine, a vow potentially as foolhardy as the mayor of Near Paris's decision to continue a triathlon in the midst of a shark invasion. However, that's all there is to the satire. There is no deputy for Emmanuel Macron, nor any comment on Paris's opposition to the Olympic Games.

    Below Paris, a mayor is depicted in a model Anna Hidalgo

    You may or may not guess how this will all end. There is one final twist involving unexploded military munitions at the bottom of the Seine, which, when they become very violently exploded military munitions, have a profound effect on the topography of the city. Suffice it to say that all those new bike paths that were built in Paris suddenly turned out to be unsatisfactory.

    In recent years, Netflix has been releasing films for pleasure in gigantic quantities. These include “Mother,” in which Jennifer Lopez tries to protect her daughter from an evil arms dealer father (Joseph Fiennes), and Gal Gadot's “Heart of Stone,” in which the Wonder Woman actress battles an evil supercomputer (even more evil than its pandemic). body tackle in “Imagine” by John Lennon).  

    These films are truly terrible and part of a grand dumbing down strategy waged since 2016 by Netflix chief content officer Bela Bajaria, who described the ideal streaming offering as a “gourmet cheeseburger.” But none of them achieved such impressive success as “Near Paris”. What is the secret of his success? Twisted storyline? The relative exoticism of a French setting and a cast that looks like they just stepped out of Lupine or Call My Agent?

    Of course not – it's a giant shark. ​​Since the days of Jaws, sharks have been irresistible to audiences. Oddly enough, the worse the quality, the warmer the reception. There have been good shark movies – the 2003 independent film Open Water and Blake Lively's 2016 thriller The Shallows. But no one cares. We want tawdry, bloody buddy-fests like the 1999 extravaganza Deep Blue Sea (where terrible CGI is part of the charm) and Jason Statham's The Meg parts one and two, which exist simply to ask the question, “What what would happen if Jason Statham punched a giant prehistoric shark—twice?”

    Why do we prefer our shark movies to overcooked, gorgonzola-slathered ones for movie-making? Maybe it’s all Steven Spielberg’s fault. With 1975’s Jaws, he created the perfect creature feature – tense, funny, action-packed and terrifying. You can’t improve on a flawless film, and the best shark movies don’t even try. Instead, they decided that the smartest policy when it comes to giant sea predators is to jump over the shark – and we were only too happy to come along on their journey to B-movie nirvana.

    Such is the proud tradition that Below Paris follows. It’s equidistant from the early excitement of the Paris Olympics, our enduring love of giant predatory fish and the public’s yearning for a summer event movie that demands you leave your brain at the door. It ticks all three boxes, then eats the boxes and regurgitates the rest – exactly what you'd want from any decent popcorn movie this time of year.

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