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The Connection (La French)
The Connection (La French) centres on the same historical event as William Friedkin’s seventies classic The French Connection but, apart from a similar title, it tells a very different story. Jean Dujardin stars as Pierre Michel, a French Magistrate thrown into dealing with the spiralling problems of drug rings and gang crime in Marseilles particularly those exporting drugs to the States. He’s no Popeye Doyle, in fact he’s mostly an all-round good guy albeit one who used to have a gambling problem. He begins to get some good results early on and re-invigorates the crime division he’s taken over and soon he’s annoying the kingpin he’s after, Zampa (played by Gilles Lellouches). The film then deals with the struggles both men then have, Michel in finishing his job with resistance from his wife, who wants him safe at home and not taking on gangsters obviously, but also corrupt figures in his own force and beyond forcing him to bend the rules as opposed to break them and then Zampa coping with power challenges and doing his best to maintain a crumbling criminal enterprise.
The film never drags but is also never as compelling as you’d hope for either, but that’s not for the lack of effort of the cast, Dujardin looks the part and brings with him his trademark charisma and handles the dramatic parts well. Lellouche, who has in the past has shown he can do any kind of action and comedy with ease, offers up very little of the character until just over halfway through where we finally get to see a glimpse of the real man. Perhaps the reason the film doesn’t fully hit the mark is the decision to split the focus onto these two men’s stories, perhaps concentrating on one side would have worked better, then again maybe not. Benoît Magimel’s performance is also worth a mention as Crazy Horse, an associate of Zampa, but is onscreen very little.
There’s also a nice dollop of humour thrown in, possibly to suit the two leads (mostly they have done comedies together) but what sticks in the memory is the look of the film. The camera is rarely still, using handheld camerawork as often as possible without making you feel too queasy, putting you in the drama as much as it’s this as much as anything that has drawn some Scorsese comparisons. The violence in the film is also interesting in that’s it brutal but quick, never being dwelled on or drawn out, director Jimenez (who incidentally grew up in Marseilles) said after that he did that purely because it’s more realistic, which also means no long car chase, sorry. Overall, a very solid crime drama and definitely worth a look.
Director: Cédric Jimenez Year: 2014 Country of Origin: France Duration: 135 minutes Writers: Audrey Diwan, Cédric Jimenez Cast: Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Céline Sallette
Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart (La prochaine fois je viserai le coeur)
Another French 70’s real life crime drama this time focussing on a serial killer who terrorised the Oise region of France for over a year. Guillame Canet plays Franck Neuhart, a Gendarme who is part of the operation tracking down the killer, and we find out within three minutes (so it’s not really a spoiler per se) it’s him. This brave decision means the film is more of a character study rather than a thriller although his outcome is milked for all its worth. Anger tries to offer us a glimpse at the human behind the headlines, we see a lonely man ill at ease with himself, his family and the world, a man who is compelled to do what he does but also seems to be completely appalled by it all.
The film captures the look of the period well and has the feel of a seventies film which is all the more surprising as it’s shot on digital. Canet is very good in the lead, particularly when he’s called upon to keep a straight face in the more surreal parts of the plot. However the character of Neuhart is unravelled very slowly which unfortunately means it’s not really until the third act that you feel anything for him, although the film to its credit does make you almost wish for a happy ending for him, which you feel very guilty about. The film works best when it’s at its most original or particular, some scenes are beautifully surreal and odd but it does venture into psycho killer territory a fair bit, particularly scenes of self-harm and his hideaway, but all in all, a fine take on the serial killer genre.
Writer-Director: Cédric Anger Year: 2014 Country of Origin: France Duration: 111 minutes Cast: Guillaume Canet, Ana Girardot, Jean-Yves Berteloot