Le Petit lieutenant (The Young Lieutenant, 2005)

I’m on holiday in France this week, so I’m re-posting some reviews (of French films, naturally) that I wrote many years ago when I was on LiveJournal, back when I was watching a lot more arthouse films.


ARCHIVAL FILM REVIEW: French Film Week || Director Xavier Beauvois | Writers Xavier Beauvois, Guillaume Bréaud, Jean-Eric Troubat and Cédric Anger | Cinematographer Caroline Champetier | Starring Jalil Lespert | Length 110 minutes | Seen at Ciné Lumière, London, Saturday 24 June 2006 | Originally posted on 25 June 2006 (with slight amendments) || My Rating 4 stars excellent


© Cinema Guild

Plenty of police procedural films (in the American mainstream, especially) attempt to outdo one another with more grisly crimes and more elaborate plots to uncover. It so happens that many of the posters for these films feature in the room where the detectives of this film work. The central character Antoine (played by Jalil Lespert) even says his initial impulse to join the police force was the movies, at least at first.

However, the more excessive filmic visions of policework don’t really apply to this particular policier, as the crimes being investigated are decidedly pedestrian (some stabbings, the death of a homeless man) and the outcomes somewhat predetermined. Fate, after all, plays a big part in the work of a filmmaker who made a film called N’oublie-pas que tu va mourir (Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die, 1995). Therefore, the narrative strands are familiar: a rookie cop; an experienced but recovering alcoholic cop who rejoins the force; conflicts of ideology (between a right-wing cop and one who has come from an ethnic minority); drinking on the job; botched investigations; the list goes on.

However, it’s what Beauvois does with these elements that is special. Nothing is glamourised here, except by the characters — Antoine’s swagger as the rookie cop is more deference to the part he’s playing as imagined from the films he’s seen. This desire to play a part leads him into trouble, just as it led him from a life in rural Normandy into Paris — where, as he points out to the wife he’s left behind, 80% of the crime happens. It also encourages reflection, and the film ends with one of those moments where the fourth wall is breached, and Antoine’s commanding officer (played by Nathalie Baye) looks directly at the camera. No words are uttered, as there is no pat summation. But a challenge is offered: a challenge perhaps to those who would follow in Antoine’s footsteps, to question what is being presented by the cinema.

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