Policemen on the verge of a nervous breakdown
While Xavier Beauvois's fourth feature can be defined as a very nicely executed film noir depicting a young lieutenant's first steps in the criminal section of a Parisian central police department, its subtlety evades the rules of the genre. It focuses neither on crimes nor on criminals, to start with, but on the daily life of the police, seen as ordinary people with families or drinking problems. However, the director plays with the potential excitement of crime, the vicinity of events which would be much more cinematic and which these police somehow wish they had to deal with more often —as show the many film posters (Seven, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...) blue-tacked on their walls.
Thus, the real subject of the film is not really the investigation on the petty murder of a beggar by two Russian ho-bos, but on the gap there is between these police officers' duty to embody 'righteous behaviour' and their personal weaknesses. The captain (played by Nathalie Baye) is particularly representative of this borderline personality motif, for she is at the same time a great professional and an AA. Even the young lieutenant, her protégé, a well-behaved provincial newly-wed, cannot help feeling the (dangerous) thrill of carrying weapons and fighting against crime. The camera, by lingering silently (for there is no music to disturb the director's psychological insights) on the characters' faces, conveys the impression that they are always walking on thin ice, struggling to contain the human emotions which lie beneath the surface.
The beauty and the truthfulness of this movie lie in its very simplicity. The director lays a perceptive eye on reality but never mediates it.
(Translated from French)
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