Hero or villain?

Highway robbery: Bouli Lanners, left, and Francois Cluzet, play bank security drivers in 11.6
Highway robbery: Bouli Lanners, left, and Francois Cluzet, play bank security drivers in 11.6

One of the best-known criminals in France in recent times is Toni Musulin. In 2009, Musulin had been working for a security firm for 10 years, when he drove off with an armoured truck containing €11.6 million (NZ$18.1m) belonging to Banque de France.

Most of the money was recovered after a few days and Musulin then turned himself in. Still in prison, he continues to claim he has no idea about an unaccounted €2.5m.

The daring heist made Musulin an unlikely folk hero among some in France, who saw him as a working man stealing from a greedy bank. It's also made him the subject of the drama 11.6, with Musulin played by one of France's biggest names of the past few years, Francois Cluzet, whom many Kiwis will know from the hit film The Untouchables.

11.6 is the second feature by Philippe Godeau, who has a long career as a producer, including the controversial Baise-moi in 2000. Godeau says what fascinated him about Musulin was not so much that he carried out the robbery and succeeded, but what he did with the money.

"The whole inspiration started the moment I realised this man, who had a clean police record, left [most of] the money.

That really got me interested. I wanted to understand what had happened. That really triggered my motivation.

"[But] I didn't decide to make the movie right away. I first investigated the character. If he left with the money I think I wouldn't have shot the movie."

In the film Musulin is depicted as complex and his reasons for robbing the bank are unclear. There are hints - including him being unhappy with his employer. But largely it's left to the audience to decide.

Godeau says the ambiguity was deliberate and the opposite of his first feature as a director, 2009's One for the Road, which also starred Cluzet.

"In my first movie I tried to explain a lot. This one, right from the beginning, I wanted viewers to feel and understand things without spelling it out."

At the same time, Musulin isn't romanticised as a hero - something that other film-makers may have been tempted to do. "I was aware of that," Godeau says. Instead he and screenwriter Agnes de Sacy loosely based the film on the book Toni 11.6 History of the Conveyor by French journalist Alice Geraud-Arfi.

"The one thing I wanted to convey is that in the end he made people close to him proud. He gave them that. It was a little bit [like] resistance fighters. Someone in the war would leave and join a group of resistance fighters.

"It was a mess for the family and made their life real hard, but at the same time they were proud to have a family member as a resistance fighter. Toni has all these bad things about him and still he can go out and resist - and that's what he does. He makes his beloved ones proud in the end, even though he's no hero."

-  11.6 is now out on DVD. 

The Dominion Post