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Paris Lockdown
cast: Philippe Caubere, Benoit Magimel, Beatrice Dalle, and Olivier Marchal

director: Frederic Schoendorffer

103 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
The last part of an informal trilogy including Crime Scenes (2000), and Secret Agents (2004), Paris Lockdown (aka: Truands, in its native France) is a brutal and high-octane slice-of-criminal-life set in the Paris underworld. However, despite some creditable performances and a welcome refusal to flinch from the more unpleasant aspects of the criminal lifestyle, Paris Lockdown's commitment to cinematic realism results in a film that feels somewhat intellectually truncated.

Claude (Philippe Caubere) is the boss of Paris. He is a brutal and violent psychopath who keeps a loose network of gangs and cliques together with a blend of terror and friendship. However, when a cocaine deal goes wrong and many of these gangs find themselves being bullied into chasing down people that Claude foolishly decided to trust, the cracks in his dominion start to become apparent to all as Claude's contacts in the police fail to tip him off about a raid resulting in his being sent down for a few years on gun-related charges. The boss' incarceration results in the different groups acquiring a greater level of autonomy, which in turn leads to the more ambitious groups rubbing up against those that were closer to the old seat of power. As Claude is no longer around to sort these disputes out and iron out the group's problems with his own particular brand of rape and murder, the groups start to wonder what life would be like without Claude and people who were once his friends begin to turn upon him.

The above synopsis, while accurate, is somewhat liberal as it gives the film a narrative structure that, frankly, is not immediately obvious in the film itself. Paris Lockdown is a film that aims to be realistic and, because life is largely free of overarching morals and narratives, this film is too. My synopsis revolves around a 'fall of the king' type story, but one could equally suggest that it is a film about the erosion of the bonds of honour and friendship in the criminal world, or even the fact that children seldom take the path that their parents plan for them. Indeed, Paris Lockdown refuses to commit to anything that you might call a character or a plot arc out of a desire (as stated by the director in the interesting if self-indulgent behind the scenes documentary included on the DVD) for 'realism'.

The problem with this approach to filmmaking is that it begs the question as to what is real. For example, according to The Wire's David Simon, the network executives working on Homicide: Life On The Street would frequently ask "where are the victories," resulting in the series jumping the shark as one form of interestingly bleak realism gave way to more common palliative stories of redemption and love. Both approaches to the series could make a grab for the term 'realistic' and the only way to resolve the problem would be to make a dramatic argument for the world being one way or the other. Indeed, noir crime fiction was feted as a form of American existentialism as while it presented life as meaningless and arbitrary, the meaninglessness was a point that the works argued for.

All dramatic presentations are inherently and inescapable contrived and artificial. Realism is looking out the window, it is not writing a screenplay and directing a film. Anyone can invoke 'realism' as an excuse for a poorly written plot and shallow characters and it is never completely satisfactory.

So, now that we know that Paris Lockdown is not 'realistic', let us look at what it is and that is unrelentingly violent and brutal. To harp back to David Simon's network execs, Paris Lockdown is a film that refuses to give us any victories whatsoever. It features gangsters 'trying out' prostitutes, raping people with pool queues and calmly executing east European prostitutes as an example to those that are being loaded onto trucks for export. It also comes very close to being misogynistic. Were it not for Claude's wife Beatrice (Beatrice Dalle) being the only character with a shred of humanity and empathy, it would be easy to slate this film's depiction of women as violently misogynistic. This is clearly an area where the film's 'realism' comes unstuck. Consider the characters of The Sopranos, all of them are old school misogynists who place women neatly into whore and madonna categories, but the world of The Sopranos steadfastly refuses to bend to their preconceptions. Paris Lockdown's world has no such depth.

Paris Lockdown is a film that lacks a story, lacks proper characterisation and presents a form of 'realism' that is utterly contrived. But despite this lack of bottom it is an amusing way to spend a couple of hours as it is never dull; it has a fantastic central performance from the veteran thespian Philippe Caubere and it also features a wonderfully low-key turn by Beatrice Dalle, a woman who seemed poised for mega-stardom in her twenties, when she starred in Betty Blue (1986), but who never quite got there. All of these people are very watchable and the film has some lovely set pieces such as a Michael Mann-style gunfight in a parking lot and some intense scenes in nightclubs but it is ultimately never anything more than watchable fluff adorned with intentionally transgressive elements. It left me thinking that it's all very well including rapes and murders but unless you've got anything more to say about these, you're not saying anything more than we might get from even the most tame and dumbed down of news sources.
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