April 20, 2007

Le Petit Lieutenant: Prime Suspect francais

Le Petit Lieutenant

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): ***½

While it's certainly not a superb film, Xavier Beauvois's Le Petit Lieutenant got a rather scathing review in Variety and I feel compelled to defend it (after I saw it at the San Francisco International Film Fest last year). The policier stars Nathalie Baye - whom I remember most vividly from The Return of Martin Guerre ages ago, though she was also seen here in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can - and she's remarkable playing a recovering alcoholic police commandant who joins a precinct at the same time as the titular cop fresh out of the police academy (a pouty Jalil Lespert). Together they work to investigate a case involving clochards, illegal immigrants and the Russian Mafia, before things take a tragic turn. But while it may remind one a bit of Prime Suspect á la français, this is less about the mystery than it is about the characters. And even a borderline cliché turning point as Baye's temptation to return to drinking is rendered with such acute humanity by the actress that it is still profoundly moving. The film works as a procedural and as a rendering of the life of a cop. It's to the film's benefit that it is presented so matter-of-factly and acted so earnestly, and I found myself forgiving it's occasional flatness.

Beauvois has been more prolific in France as an actor than as a director - this is his fourth film, with the previous efforts well-reviewed but little seen in the States, and it's likely Le Petit Lieutenant won't break that streak. But it's well worth seeking out, because of Nathalie Baye - who won a César for Best Actress for this - and the rest of the cast, and as an example of making something fresh and authentic out of relatively common material.

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Posted by cphillips at April 20, 2007 3:51 PM
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