Friday, February 05, 2016

The Thin Blue Line: Maurice Pialat's "Police"

Alongside Bertrand Tavernier's "L.627", Maurice Pialat's 1985 film "Police" may very well be one of the most anti-police films ever crafted.... in terms of Hollywoodized standards that is. Both films jettison the ubiquitous aspects of the 'policier'. Gone are the car chases, shoot outs and violently illustrious actions that permeate the landscape of the genre. Instead, we get a "procedural" in the most essential sense of the word. In fact, the first 50 minutes of "Police" document the ebbs and flows inside a police station like a one-act play with cops bickering, joking and pushing against a stone wall of questioning. There are no grand break-throughs in a case. There are no "a-ha" moments that decipher the investigation. Instead, they're met with staunch denials by the supposed criminals, the inability to put two-and two together and languorous stretches on both sides of the jail cell glass. If it wasn't for the coolly sensual (and viscerally rough) relationship between cop Gerard Depardieu and purported criminal Sophie Marceau, "Police" might even be called boring. But there's more than meets the eye in Pialat's rigorously researched script (by filmmaker Catherine Breillat) that pivots during its second half and not only spreads deeper into the underworld Depardieu is trying to crack open, but turns the consequences inward as cop and beautiful criminal traverse a more personal intersection.

Young Noria (Marceau) falls into Mangin's (Depardieu) line of sight when the boyfriend she's living with is arrested after an informant gives Mangin his name as a go-between for more heavy people in Marseille. Hours of questioning yields nothing for Mangin and his aggressive unit. If anything, a bitter animosity grows between the two. Trained well, Noria denies everything... even when the cops play her voice on a recorded message.

After this long set-up, "Police" jumps several months with a single cut. Free of her charges (although the boyfriend still in jail), Noria and Mangin have become a loose couple, going out on the town together where the line between good and bad become awfully blurred. Mangin's friend, Lambert (Richard Ancinina), is the lawyer for the accused. As we see, he obviously knows more than the cops. Also in tow is young Lydie (Sandrine Bonnaire), a prostitute whose had relations with both men. The whole group mingle and socialize as if there are no borders between them, and if anything, "Police" is a film about denying strict rules and codes. It doesn't play by the rules of cop, criminal, accessory or prostitute because, in this second half, those biases wash away and "Police" settles on the confused and awkward relationship developing between Mangin and Noria. Is she using him for his authority? Is Mangin using her to set some wicked trap and bring closure to the big case that seemingly slipped through his fingers? It's as if Pialat became supremely bored with the elaborate police film he originally intended to make and set loose on a completely different path about life. Regardless, both types of film work here.

Just now beginning to explore the multi-faceted work of Pialat (having been exposed to and loving his "Van Gogh" some years ago), "Police" felt like the most mainstream place to begin. Instead, its a wonderful shock when a film plays with expectations so vividly. It's messy and complicated and even wildly romantic. Just watch how tense Pialat makes 'quickie' sex in a police station. And if all that's not enough, the film ends on such a perfect beat that one just may forget it's a police film at all, leaving you breathless and knocked out, gasping for understanding the way Depardieu does.

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