VENICE–In his remarkable new film, Bertrand Tavernier takes an impassioned inside look at the day-to-day activities of a small, ill-equipped branch of the Paris Drug Squad. With extraordinary documentary realism, the director has produced one of his best and most challenging films. International exposure seems assured.
Tavernier has said he became interested in the subject of the police struggle against drug dealers when his son, Nils, to whom the film is dedicated, briefly became involved in drugs.
With the help of a 15-year veteran of the Paris police force, Michel Alexandre (who collaborated on the screenplay), Tavernier has written a film that appears to tell it like it is, avoiding the cliches of the cop film (shootouts, car chases) in favor of a probing look at the way a drug unit works.
His protagonist is Lulu (Didier Bezace), a dedicated member of the drug squad.
He’s posted to another squad run by Dodo (Jean-Paul Comart), a racist with a sick sense of humor. This unit includes the attractive Marie (Charlotte Kady), who seems to cope amazingly well with her difficult job.
Without forcing the point, Tavernier reveals the constraints under which the narcotics police operate. They are under-resourced (using old manual typewriters , short of transportation), underpaid, overworked.
Yet there’s a camaraderie here and many, like Lulu, are determined against the odds to get the drug dealers off the streets. Numerous scenes of stakeouts, raids and interrogations reveal both the routine and the awesome nature of the drug problem.
Because Tavernier avoids the action cliches that would be the staple in an American film on this subject and because he takes his time to depict this seedy Paris underworld (far from the tourist spots–no sign of the Eiffel Tower here), he runs the risk of alienating audiences.
But thanks to a grim sense of humor and an astonishing accumulation of convincing detail, the film (titled after a French civil law that covers the police war against drugs) succeeds triumphantly and should appeal to discriminating audiences worldwide.
Aside from his work, Lulu is involved with two women–his ex-wife (Cecile Garcia-Fogel) and a young prostitute and drug addict (Lara Guiraro). The bond between them adds a further dimension to an already richly detailed film.
Spectacularly well shot by Alain Choquart, the film makes an impassioned plea for public support for a police force, which still is society’s only defense against drug dealers.
Only commercial drawback is the film’s length, but it doesn’t seem excessive thanks to precision pacing. Philippe Sarde provides a fine, appropriate music score.
From a generally fine cast, standouts are Didier Bezace as Lulu, Charlotte Kady as the femme cop and Nils Tavernier as a member of the squad. “L.627” confirms Bertrand Tavernier as one of Europe’s most versatile and provocative filmmakers.