District 13 is in Paris and it's "out of control" -- taxpayers are sick of paying for it, and the establishment has come up with an ingenious way to solve the problem. It's built a wall around it and you can't get out, or in, except through the police barrier.
The multi-racial inhabitants are left to themselves and gangsters rule. By the way, this is set in 2010 -- 2 years from now!
This fast-paced French film, released on DVD in October 2006, looks like it was made in response to the rioting in France back in 2005 but was actually made in 2004. Quite what it is saying to either the rioters or the law-abiding French, or about the French establishment, is difficult to interpret. But really, when the action and stunts are as good as this, the message fades into the background.
The story: A bomb has inadvertently found itself in a van in District 13. It will blow up "8 kilometres" and wipe out the District unless it is defused. Only two men can get to the bomb: Leito and Damien.
Leito is an ultra-fit, cool as a cumumber, "parkour" expert, and resident of the District, played by David Belle -- real-life inventor of "Le Parkour" -- who is opposed to the drug dealing in his block run by the gangland master Taha (played by Bibi Naceri). Leito has an initial trust in the law which turns bitterly and violently cynical.
Damien, is an ultra-fit, cool as a cumumber, hand-to-hand combat expert and policeman played by Cyril Raffaelli who in contrast to Leito, believes "The law is for everyone in this country" and "worth fighting for". He especially believes in the French values of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity". "Some values are worth defending."
In a way this film could be seen as an attempt to get the people who are disenchanted in the ghettos, to rally behind the idea of "French values", as embodied in policeman Damien and his integrity and commitment to the rule of law.
At the same time, though, it plays to the idea that some in the French state are corrupt and others couldn't care less about the ghetto inhabitants, or want to kill them -- which won't exactly inspire confidence in those people! As the Chief of Police states, "Two million people live in that District of which about 50% deserve our help."
Amusingly, Damien's character attempts to tell us seriously that, "Violence doesn't always solve problems -- there are more democratic ways." He must have been putting the emphasis on the "doesn't always" because after watching this film, one is certainly left with the distinct impression that violence "doesn't always" solve everything but in Leito and Damien's world it certainly solves most things!
David Belle, who plays Leito, is the real-life founder of the running and jumping art of "Le Parkour", the aim of which has been described as moving "from point A to point B as efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the abilities of the human body. It is meant to help one overcome obstacles, which can be anything in the surrounding environment -- from branches and rocks to rails and concrete walls." Stylistically it is claimed to differ from "Free Running" -- which British people would consider the more popular term for this activity -- in that it is said to be more functional and efficient and less obviously acrobatic and showy in nature.
The degree of physical accomplishment which Belle and Raffaelli demonstrate in this film has to be seen to be believed.
Two amazing jumps, among many which include some quite literal death-defying leaps from rooftops: One by Belle through the top of a small window on the top of a door, and another by Raffaelli -- an utterly astonishing, jaw-dropping, leap and perfect landing into the passenger seat of a car, through the window, feet first! You can play it again and again and still not believe a human being actually managed it! A different, and even more impressive angle can be seen in the "Making of" special feature in the DVD.
The physical skill and achievement of the Frenchmen Cyril Raffaelli and David Belle, who perform all their stunts themselves, are an absolute invigourating, heart-pounding joy to watch. What you will take away from this film is a deep respect for the physical accomplishment of these two astonishing athletes.