: Zoe Saldana, Jordi Molla, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Lennie JamesDirector
: Olivier Megaton Genre
: ActionRunning Time
: 107 minutesSynopsis
: 1992. Colombia. Nine-year-old Cataleya witnesses her parents' murder. Barely escaping the massacre herself, she takes refuge in the United States with Emilio, her gangster uncle… Fifteen years later, she works for him as a hit woman. Her calling card - an orchid drawn on the chests of her victims - is a message to her parents' assassins. For Cataleya is determined to see her vengeance through to the bitter end… even if it means losing everything she loves.Release Date
: November 17th, 2011Website
"Luc Besson had spoken to me regularly about wanting to do a sequel to Leon: The Professional for what must have been ten years," reveals Olivier Megaton. "The film never materialised but he clung to that idea of an action film with a female hero and let it ripen into Colombiana."
Luc Besson approached Olivier Megaton in November 2009 with a script he had co-written with Robert Mark Kamen, his writing partner since The Fifth Element. Colombiana recounts the story of Cataleya, a young woman who's had an intense thirst for vengeance ever since her parents were murdered. Her uncle Emilio has trained her to be a hit woman and her sole objective is to find and shoot down the assassins who murdered her family.
"As for me, I'd been wanting to make a Jason-Bourne type action film with a female hero," Olivier Megaton continues. "I wanted to make a more serious, less cartoony film than Transporter 3. So Colombiana was ideal. It's a kind of homage to Nikita and Leon: The Professional. I wanted to explore the main character's psychology and push it to its limits."
As soon as Olivier Megaton began the casting process for Cataleya, he quickly thought of Zoe Saldana. If he, at first, considered that casting choice a gamble, he quickly came to realise that the actress was, in the end, an obvious choice for the role. "Zoe Saldana is not only beautiful, she's also intelligent, she's got heart, real humanity and enormous will when faced with any obstacle. She was already bursting with ideas, the first time she read the script. On top of that, she was eager to work and is a real perfectionist, which is something we share." Olivier Megaton didn't have to convince Zoe Saladana, who was immediately taken with the character. "Cataleya is a real loner, she's never been able to have a normal life," the actress explains. "She lives in a state of permanent mourning, at a distance from any kind of social interaction. She has tremendous concentration and determination, she's always on the alert." While Zoe Saldana admits immediately recognising those character traits in Cataleya, she confesses that grasping some of her other facets was more difficult. "The violence Cataleya confronts and her pain are inconceivable to me. So I really had to work to comprehend them and feel them in order to construct and play my Cataleya." She has a dual nature - she's simultaneously single-minded, athletic, cunning, but she's also fragile, alone and exhausted by that vengeance that's eating away at her but that drives her, as well. Because that's her goal, she owes it to herself to see it through. So Olivier Megaton needed a twofold performance from Zoe Saldana - physical and psychological. She had to be able to kill and to cry.
Zoe Saldana worked with Olivier Megaton to define Cataleya's psychological makeup and literally threw herself wholeheartedly into her physical training with fight coordinator Alain Figlarz. She also spent hours looking at wildlife documentaries because Cataleya has a very animal-like way of stalking her prey and moving through space. The actress likewise learned to shoot real bullets and to strip down and reassemble guns. "Cataleya has had no military or police training," Zoe Saldana emphasises. "She was trained by her uncle Emilio, who's a gangster, and she's developed an odd relationship with guns. She sees them less as weapons than as her best friends."
And those friends are going to be more than useful in confronting the dangers the screenwriters have envisioned for her. Three Villains, or Almost
Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen have, in fact, come up with not one but several. Two put Cataleya in physical danger, hunting her down to eliminate her, and one puts her in moral danger, tracking her down to confront her with her criminal activities, her present and past reality.
Don Luis and Marco, the head of a drug cartel and his first lieutenant, were both at the root of the assassination of Cataleya's parents. "Don Luis is sort of behind the times," Olivier Megaton admits. "He smokes bad cigars, drinks bad cognac and listens to bad opera. I wanted to parody the bad-guy image you find in '70s action films. In Colombiana, Don Luis has 'super bad guy' written all over him but he's not the real source of danger." It's actually Marco who unleashes peril and adversity. He does Don Luis' dirty work. An out-and-out psychopath. Even if he doesn't seem like one. From the very first scenes, actor Jordi MollÃ 's portrayal of Marco is in more of a gentle and refined mode than an action mode.
Facing little Cataleya immediately after the murder of her parents, which he orchestrated, immediately after that explosion of violence, he speaks to her calmly, consoling her with reassuring words, all the better to hold her in thrall. Yet his true nature resurfaces when Cataleya escapes. So killing a child seems to pose no particular problem for him. After that, you never have to show Marco with a weapon again because he expresses danger, he personifies it.
FBI agent James Ross has been tracking Cataleya for four years. But is he really a villain? "James Ross and Cataleya are similar," Olivier Megaton observes. "They both have broken lives, they're both alone, they're both hunters. When they finally confront one another, James Ross' reactions and attitude make him endearing and sympathetic." And strangely moving when he realises that the serial killer he's obsessed with, who has eluded him for so many years, and who he had thought was a man, is, in fact, a woman. "James Ross is a profiler," actor Lennie James points out. "He's based his reputation on the quality of his profiles. Discovering that he's been mistaken from the get-go truly calls everything into question for him." When Action Rhymes with Emotion
Cataleya is still a serial killer, with 23 murders under her belt. And the slaughter isn't over yet. "There's no moral logic to this story," Olivier Megaton admits. "So our challenge was to make sure that Cataleya held onto her sympathy quotient. Still, it is fairly perverse to present someone who's devoured by his own sharks! So the actors and I adjusted each of Cataleya's victims in relation to Zoe Saldana's character so as to make her more touching." Keeping that character balanced was a constant struggle and the key was partly in how her parents' murder was treated. "I didn't want quick flashbacks of Cataleya as a child here and there, to give us hints to her personality. We preferred to develop the little girl's character and make her as moving as possible. So when we see Cataleya grown up, the transfer is instantaneous. The adult Cataleya is the logical outgrowth of little Cataleya. We needed that connection." Zoe Saldana and Amandla Stenberg, who plays Cataleya as a child, worked in sync, each taking on the mannerisms of the other. Their two attitudes were constructed in continuity to create an integral, unique, logical, coherent, complete character. As a woman, Cataleya really only has two men in her life in relation to whom she can feel complex emotions - her uncle, Emilio, and her boyfriend, Danny.
Emilio is now Cataleya's only family. From their poignant reunion to their final violent dispute, their scenes are among the most emotionally rich in the film. "I wanted the uncle, who suddenly has this pest thrust into in his life, to be moving," Olivier Megaton explains, "and to remain moving, even as he watches Cataleya grow up, doing whatever she wants and now capable of deceiving him. But only up to a certain point. When Emilio discovers that Cataleya is secretly setting her own plan for revenge into motion, there's a clash. And it's all the stronger since it's a confrontation between two wildcats."
Her relationship with Danny, her boyfriend, is the second liaison in Cataleya's story. "That love bubble punctuates the film and propels Cataleya into another world," Olivier Megaton explains. "Danny doesn't know much about Cataleya because she doesn't say anything about her real life," recounts Michael Vartan, who plays Danny. And she divulges minimal information about a life based on lies because, little by little, Cataleya begins to realise that she's much more attached to Danny than she lets on. She's in pain and it becomes harder and harder for her to keep up this double life, torn between revenge and love. An Organic Fight
Colombiana is an action film with chase scenes, on foot or in cars, gunfire and a good share of explosions, particularly in the final sequence with the destruction of Don Luis' hacienda. "The last scene is unprecedented," Olivier Megaton smiles. "It begins with Cataleya, armed with a rocket launcher!" But despite all the mortal obstacles she meets, Olivier Megaton still felt that Cataleya never truly faced real physical danger because she always had a weapon with which to defend herself. "I needed hand-to-hand combat," Olivier Megaton continues, "the kind that Jason Bourne has taught us to appreciate again."
So he and Alain Figlarz created a bare-handed fist fight between Cataleya and Marco in a cramped bathroom. Well, almost bare-handed, since the enemies quickly figure out how to make use of practical props, like bath towels and toothbrushes. "I wanted Alain to come up with something using the props on the set," Olivier Megaton stresses, "as he did in The Bourne Identity, when Jason Bourne uses a regular pen as a mortal weapon. I also wanted a brutal, organic fight rather than a highly choreographed fight that wouldn't be realistic, either for the characters or today's world." Zoe Saldana trained with Alain Figlarz for two months and she did 98% of the fight scenes, which gives the character even greater credibility. At the same time, Jordi worked with his stunt double in Spain. "I'm not made for action," Jordi says. "Plus, I bruise fairly easily." "Zoe Saldana had rigorous training, Jordi a lot less," Olivier Megaton adds. "He managed to do a lot of stuff in the fight scenes but he was physically limited. I really pushed both actors to the limits of their endurance and their exhaustion is palpable, which heightens the fight scenes." "Zoe Saldana trained with a stuntman and she was used to throwing punches, knowing that her opponent could take them," Jordi continues. "That was far from the case with me. So I asked her to really hold back on the punches. But she still clipped me once or twice, by accident. As for me, I don't know if I hurt her. I hope so," he laughs. Megaton's Cube
The film was shot between August and November 2010, predominantly in five cities: Paris, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans and Mexico City. So Olivier had to work with five different crews, revolving around a core group of fifteen French crew people, which allowed the film to maintain a certain logic and continuity. "In the Unites States, the crews are automatically bigger," Olivier Megaton asserts. "Americans don't have this concept of moving quickly from one set to another. They think the whole company has to move in unison. With the Mexicans, it wasn't that same automatic reflex, it was more of a wait-and-see approach. And every time we had a technical problem, we had to go into MacGyver mode, so as not to lose time. I had to pull the maximum out of each of those crews, but it's always tough to motivate people when you're only working with them for a few days or a week. But we managed, in he end!"
In defense of those crews, it must be said that Olivier Megaton presented them with a real Rubik's cube, sometimes shooting shots for the same sequence on several sets, in several cities. A sequence like the one in the police station, where Cataleya kills a character named Rizzo, made use of a dozen different locations in Paris, Mexico City and New Orleans. Cataleya pulls up in a car on an exterior location in New Orleans, then enters that large room in a police station located in Mexico City, and then is put into her cell, built in a studio in Paris. That's followed by the arrival of the prisoner, Rizzo, shot in another location in Mexico City. Then he goes into his cell, built on a Paris soundstage. The shots of Cataleya coming out of her own cell were shot in Paris and are intercut with shots in the security control room, shot in Mexico City, and shots of airs ducts, filmed in a Paris studio. Rizzo's death was staged on a studio set in Paris. When Cataleya escapes over the rooftops, those are rooftops in a studio in Paris, with a New Orleans background plate on one side and Mexico City all around it - in other words, three cities within the same shot. "Everything has to be meticulously planned, so that nothing is overlooked," Olivier Megaton confides. "You have to be able to synthesise everything, then recreate it all, so you have continuity of set design, costume design… It's an insane job!" There was as much action on set as there now is on screen.