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cast: Gérard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau, Richard Anconina, Pascale Rocard, and Sandrine Bonnaire

director: Maurice Pialat

109 minutes (12) 1985
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
Maurice Pialat's only foray into the cop thriller is a typically melancholy and understated affair and is not, it has to be said, entirely successful. Aspects of it, though, are quite wonderful. It's easy to forget what a powerful actor Gérard Depardieu used to be before he moved to Hollywood to become a stock Frenchman. In Police he plays Louis Mangin, a cop who is trying to bust a heroine smuggling ring, and he's a convincingly multifaceted creation. Many of Pialat's characters are motivated by love (desiring either to give it or receive it) and Louis is no exception. He is also fascinated with the underworld and its people, and he lives for his job. His home life has disintegrated. Depardieu, however, is thoroughly overshadowed by Sophie Marceau who plays Noria, the hardened drug courier he falls for. Marceau gives possibly the best performance of her career and makes most of the other actors look like amateurs. Unfortunately many of the other actors are amateurs. Pialat cast many real criminals and policemen in the film: they certainly look the part, but their delivery lacks polish to say the least. According to an accompanying documentary he also had a habit of casting comedians and porn stars, though luckily for us their baggage hasn't arrived and we can watch them without tripping up on their other personae.

One fortunate aspect is that the film doesn't feel as if it is set in the middle of the fashion-disaster of the 1980s. Both sides are so hard that they don't bother with trends, and it could almost be the 1970s for most of the film, or maybe even a grungy lo-fi 1990s. The police station, with its white tiles, wire and fluorescent lighting, is a particularly ugly and timeless location, and much of the early part of the film is spent there. The police have suspects under arrest, leads, evidence and recordings. They just don't have enough to break up the Tunisian drug-ring that they are after. They have arrested a small-time dealer called Simon (Jonathan Leïna), and Mangin becomes convinced that Simon's girlfriend Noria (Marceau) is the key to the whole operation. Noria, however has her own agenda. Another character weaving his way through the moral mess is Lambert (Richard Anconina), the lawyer who represents the drug cartel. Another complex character ably played by a fine actor, Lambert has no illusions about the type of people that he is representing, but his distain for the criminals almost renders him blind to the dangers that they represent.

Pialat learned his craft at the feet of Truffaut and became quite the auteur, and much of the complexity and ambiguity in Police is due to Pialat's (anti-)direction. He would frequently start filming without telling the actors, leaving them to notice for themselves and drop into character. The script (and its writer, Catherine Breillat) was also treated with a cavalier attitude, and this is very much a film that was built in the editing suite. Pialat died in 2003, but the many extras in this two-disc set give the viewer a fine idea of his eccentric working technique. There is a 15-minute interview with Breillat, 23 minutes of outtakes, a 12-minute documentary shot over one day of filming, a 35-minute documentary from a few years ago which is a delight (the weary grins on the faces of cast and crew as they relate yet another Pialat story speaks volumes), a screen test which feels as if it could easily have been dropped straight into the film, and seven trailers for Pialat films which include the original one for Police.

If you want car chases then step away, folks - there's nothing here for you to see. If you want a gritty, bleak analysis of characters under moral stress and you don't mind an anticlimactic story-arc then you'll find much to reward you.

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