(Release Info London schedule; December 16th, 2018, Electric Cinema, 10:00)
Based on the books 'Papillon' and 'Banco', "Papillon" follows the epic story of Henri 'Papillon' Charrière (Charlie Hunnam), a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who's framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on 'Devil’s Island'. Determined to regain his freedom, 'Papillon' forms an unlikely alliance with quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek), who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance 'Papillon’s' escape.
In the glamorous world of Paris in 1931, safecracker Henri 'Papillon' Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) steals a small fortune in diamonds for local gangster Castili (Christopher Fairbank). Though he avoids detection, 'Papillon', whose nickname refers to the butterfly tattoo on his chest, makes one critical mistake; he withholds a jeweled necklace from the unforgiving crime boss and gives it to his girlfriend Nenette (Eve Hewson) instead. In retaliation, Castili frames 'Papillon' for murder, earning him a life sentence at the infamous penal colony in 'French Guiana'. On a ship bound for the remote South American prison, 'Papillon' meets meek currency forger Louis Dega (Rami Malek), who's sentenced to life for producing counterfeit bonds. There, amid thousands of violent convicts awaiting their fate, the two men reach an agreement; 'Papillon' will protect Dega and the stash of money he has hidden. In exchange, Dega will finance 'Papillon’s' eventual escape plan.
Upon arrival, the shackled prisoners are met by Warden Barrot (Yorick van Wageningen), who explains the prison’s draconian rules; solitary confinement for anyone who attempts to escape; the guillotine for murderers. As they struggle to survive the nightmarish conditions, which include tropical illness, savage beatings, forced labor and public beheadings, 'Papillon' and Dega enlist the help of inmates Celier (Roland Møller) and Maturette (Joel Basman) to stage a daring escape during a torrential rainstorm. Despite their best efforts, the plan results in 'Papillon' being sent to solitary confinement for five grueling years. Emerging as a mere shadow of his former self, 'Papillon' is transferred to 'Devil’s Island', where he finds Dega waiting for him. Surrounded by prisoners who’ve been driven mad by their time in solitary, the two friends contemplate the hopelessness of their situation. But 'Papillon’s' relentless desire for freedom will not be denied.
Louis Dega is arguably the most colorful role in the film. Louis is a character almost everyone will identify with because he’s someone who’s finds himself in a surprising place he knows nothing about. He’s been thrown into one of the most deplorable and miserable circumstances on earth, and has to fight his way through to survive. One of the coolest things about 'Papillon' and Dega is the way they push and pull at each other. In some ways they’re true polar opposites, and that's what helped their relationship grow into what you see in the film. The character's relationship is extremely significant to the story. If that chemistry doesn’t work, the film won’t come off the way it needs to. 'Papillon' allows the audience to see exactly how someone can snap. Not only how they can physically break, but how their mind can deteriorate as well. These two unlikely friends become so reliant on each other that a genuine love evolves between them. And that love allows them to understand not only the other person, but themselves as well. But it’s about the relationship that’s created between 'Papillon' and Dega, who initially hate each other, but who become entirely dependent on each other by the end. 'Papillon' starts as this young, ambitious, egotistical man, and he ends up a completely different person. The film’s emotional journey of self-discovery expects moviegoers around the world.
Nenette (Eve Hewson) is an enigmatic French prostitute who romances 'Papillon' before he’s sentenced to life in prison. Nenette is a tragic soul beaten down by life in the Parisian underworld, She’s a smart, interesting person in the way she approaches her ambitions and dreams. She’s not a delicate flower. She’s a fighter. Although Nenette isn’t sentenced for any of her crimes in the film, the character exists in her own personal prison. Nenette and 'Papillon' are partners in crime, like 'Bonnie and Clyde'. She’s desperate to escape Paris because she doesn’t want to be a prostitute anymore. Her ambition is simply to survive, which is in keeping with the theme of the film. For 'Papillon', survival means getting out of prison. But for Nenette, her prison is a life of prostitution.
One of the most important characters in the film is 'The French Guiana Penal Colony' itself. Vividly described by Charrière in his novels, the location’s nightmarish qualities needed to be abundantly clear to audiences if the film is going to have the desired effect. Remarkably, there’s a fair amount of documentary footage on the subject. A great deal of history has been written about the penal colonies. In many ways, the penal colony described in Charrière’s novel resembles a Dante-esque version of 'Hell On Earth'. This isn't a summer camp in the jungle. This is a very rough place that stood for more than 80 years. So to tell the story convincingly, the film creates something that's as terrifying as the one that actually existed. For example, the jail that 'Papillon' is sent to in Paris is very different than the prison ship that takes him to 'French Guiana'. And the prison ship is very different than the penal colony in the jungle. Each one has it's own style and personality. The film captures a sense of compression, like the belly of a beast. There’s an element of rebirth when Papillon and the others are spat out onto the beach at the end of their sea journey. The prison ship has so much texture everywhere. It's dark and greasy, and there are fires burning in the background. It gives an intensely claustrophobic feeling. Although it's cold on set, you’d still sweat inside that ship somehow.
Few topics have made for more gripping cinematic drama than true tales of incarceration. From the 1932 classic "I Am A Fugitive" to the 1962 biopic "Birdman Of Alcatraz", moviegoers have thrilled to stories that depict real-life prisoners struggling to survive the brutality of institutional confinement. Filled with shocking details about life in one of the world’s most hellish environments, Charrière’s autobiographical novel became a global bestseller when it was first published in 1969 and remains a modern classic in the genre of prison literature. Amid so many acclaimed titles, perhaps none has captured audience's imaginations the way the 1973 prison adventure "Papillon" has. A box-office hit starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, the film was based on the critically-hailed memoirs of Henri Charrière, a French thief who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life at the notorious 'French Guiana' penal colony in 1931. Based on the epic true story, "Papillon" is a thrilling adventure and a powerful portrait of the resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of utter inhumanity. The story of "Papillon" is set between the years of 1931 and 1945.
Whenever you tackle a remake or a reimagining of a classic, one of the biggest hurdles is trying to differentiate it from the original without losing the integrity of the story. The solutithe idea of this film is really to capture an overarching life story rather than to just focus on the escape. The focus is not just about the prison and wrongful incarceration. It goes much deeper than that. Although Charrière’s tale is widely regarded as one of the most exciting prison stories of all time, the new adaptation of "Papillon" transcends it's genre. This film is about much more than trying to escape 'Devil’s Island'. It’s about trying to escape yourself and your past. That's the true appeal of "Papillon". Essentially, it’s a story about understanding one’s true self. The result is a stark portrait of unimaginable pain that will likely move many viewers to tears.
"Papillon" contains all the elements necessary for a gritty prison thriller set in one of the world’s deadliest places, but it also includes something else; humanity. There’s plenty of visceral action and compelling drama, but it’s mainly a story of friendship. It’s about people being kind to each other in a very difficult and violent place, and it’s a testament to man’s will to endure. Sadly, much of "Papillon" is still relevant today because many men and women are incarcerated under horrific conditions, and isolation is used as a way to torment them. It’s happening all around the world at this very moment. The emotional depth is one of the favorite aspects of the film. "Papillon" is the chance to revisit the topic in a historical context, while focusing on what makes it relevant to today’s world. On the surface, it’s a thrilling adventure film.