Mea culpa: stylish French cinema

MeaCulpaThis is a minuscule plot, presented in a stylish cinema noir wrapper and packed with Gallic panache. It features powerful performances from the two male leads, as it explores their relationship and the consequences of the catastrophic event which saw one of them drummed out of the police force and imprisoned for causing deaths while driving drunk.

That’s the undercurrent, which swirls beneath the superficial story – and to be honest there isn’t a great deal of depth to the central narrative. Young boy witnesses a gangland killing: bad guys chase boy. Bad guys then chase boy’s father – the disgraced ex-cop. Fights ensue. Repeat with escalating violence and intensity until you reach the bizarre moment when a family saloon car keeps pace with a high-speed TGV in an extremely unlikely chase sequence.

There are some deftly done moments of subtlety, such as the ex-cop’s ex-wife’s understanding that when her child is threatened she’s better off with his father (the ex-cop) than with her new hipster beau. The transactions between the couple are done with expression and gestures; nicely understated.

Similarly, the atmosphere of guilt / regret which characterises the interactions between the two alpha males is well handled, hinting at the turmoil that each man has experienced.

By contrast, the eastern European thugs came straight from central casting and have little purpose apart from running, shooting, shouting and thumping. And the bumbling, incompetent senior cop defies belief. And why are the backstreets so utterly deserted?

The action – and there’s a lot of it; most of the film is an extended fight scene – is delivered with a wallop. But the movie depends too heavily on the breathless pace of the chase, and takes refuge in cliché to fill in the gaps. The film runs to less than 90 minutes, and even then the story seems stretched.

There’s a nub of a great story in this film, and it’s presented with considerable flair. It’s genuinely tense at times, and the cinematography in the run-down districts of Toulon is gorgeous. But more development to the script would’ve given the core story much more impact. Too much running: not enough thinking.

If you watch Eurocrime TV series, then this is more like Braquo and less like Engrenages.

Dialogue in French, with English subtitles.

NOTE: the bull-fighting sequence may upset some viewers
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason


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