Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Le Petit Lieutenant

2005, France, directed by Xavier Beauvois

Xavier Beauvois's Le Petit lieutenant is a fascinating procedural that also functions as an examination of the rituals and routines of police life; the two strands are inextricably interwoven, with the strains of the job expressing themselves in the home lives of the protagonists (the nearest equivalent is perhaps Andreas Dresen's excellent German television film Die Polizistin). Jalil Lespert plays Antoine, the eponymous newcomer to the force, and his education in the realities of crime and criminals - in what he, influenced himself by the film posters that cover the walls of his office, assumes to be an exciting post - becomes our own means of penetrating that world's customs and ceremonies.

Beauvois takes particular care to note the minutiae of (French) working life, the handshakes and greetings that punctuate and add civility to each professional interaction, even at a crime scene (unless a suspect is involved). Beuavois often allows these scenes to play out in real time - neo-realist style - capturing seemingly irrelevant moments and fragments of dialogue that build a richly textured portrait of a specific corner of the world. Nathalie Baye excels as the young lieutenant's boss and mentor - while there's a hefty dose of Prime Suspect's DCI Jane Tennison in her troubled character, Baye develops a compelling, rounded portrait, utterly convincing when tragedy strikes, rendering even an apparent solution to the crimes under investigation almost irrelevant. Her interactions with colleagues, subordinates, an old lover all have the ring of unshowy truth.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States