Parky At the Pictures (5/3/2021)
Updated: Mar 11, 2021
(Reviews of Home Front; In Bed With Victoria; Love Affair(s); Mama Weed; Night Shift; and The Translators)
With cinemas still closed for another few weeks, those awfully nice people at the French Film Festival have organised a little spring treat. For three weekends between 12-27 March, five features will be available to view under the auspices of fff@home, including Jean-Paul Salomé's Mama Weed, which stars the peerless Isabelle Huppert as a police translator who becomes a big league drug dealer, and Anne Fontaine's Night Shift, which teams Virginie Efira and Omar Sy in a police procedural based on a novel by Hugo Boris.
Belgian actor-director Lucas Belvaux has been making features for 30 years. He may not have been particularly prolific and has not always had the best exposure in this country since being commended for La Trilogie (2002), a genre-crossing exercise that was more honoured as a concept than were the individual components, On the Run, An Amazing Couple and After the Life. British audiences did get to see Yvan Attal in Rapt (2009), but only the latter half of the Émilie Duquenne duo of Not My Type (2014) and This Is Our Land (2017). However, FFF now ensures that UK viewers can see Home Front, his adaptation of Laurent Mauvignier's 2009 novel, The Wound, although some may be put off by the fact that star Gérard Depardieu has recently been charged with rape and sexual assault in a case against the 72 year-old that was reopened in December after originally being dropped in 2019 for a lack of evidence.
Leaving his cramped quarters abutting a farmhouse some time in 2003, Bernard (Gérard Depardieu) rides his moped into the nearby to attend the birthday party of his younger sister, Solange (Catherine Frot). The mood changes the moment Bernard (who is also known as Feu-de-Bois) enters the village hall and he is watched carefully by his cousin Rabut (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his wife Nicole (Clotilde Mollet), as he makes his way through the guests to find Solange. She is surprised to see him and dismayed when he gives her an expensive brooch as a present.
Some of the watching women are appalled by the lavishness of the gift and demand to know where Feu-de-Bois got the money, as he insists that Solange tries it on. Embarrassed by the gesture, she tries to defuse the situation. But voices are raised accusing Feu-de-Bois of stealing the money his mother had hidden and he skulks off to the nearby bistro to drown his sorrows. Angered at being shown up, Feu-de-Bois returns to the venue and demand to be treated with respect. However, Solonge asks him to leave quietly and he hurls racist abuse at Saïd Chefraoui (Farid Larbi) and has to be forcibly evicted.
Storming home, Feu-de-Bois tries to barge his way into Saïd's house, which had once been his family home. Madame Chefraoui (Amelle Chahbi) ushers the children upstairs, as Feu-de-Bois sets about beating their barking dog. But she is unable to prevent him from gaining access through the garage door and she is being pinned against a wall when Saïd comes to her rescue. Rabut is summoned to the bistro by the mayor and the local police chief, who inform him that it's time to stop turning a blind eye to his cousin's antics and blaming them on the scars left by his service in the Algerian War, some four decades earlier.
As Feu-de-Bois, Rabut and Solange spend an evening reflecting on the past, the scene shifts to the early 1960s, when Bernard (Yoann Zimmer) and Rabut (Edouard Sulpice) were 20 years old and Solonge (Coréane Marchand) was still a young girl. Rabut remembers the dismay he felt when Bernard had disowned Reine (Gaïa Warnant), the sister who had died after giving birth to an illegitimate child. He also reflects on how he had resented the fact that Bernard had nicknamed him `Brains' around the time they had been shipped out to Algeria.
Teased for being teetotal and deeply religious, Bernard was viewed with suspicion by many in the platoon and Rabut had been careful not to be tarred with the same brush by fellow conscripts Février (Félix Kysyl), Poiret (Simon Parmentier), Bergonnier (Félix Laudière), Kastendeuch (Yannick Morzelle) and Chatel (Jean-Baptiste Le Vaillant). However, Bernard was kind to the young daughter of the camp engineer (and was photographed with her by Rabut as they played with the mascot tortoise). But he remained something of a loner, despite having sympathy with the pacifist Chatel after he is beaten in a shallow river by Kastendeuch for comparing the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane with the shooting of the small boy who had tried to stop Bergonnier and Février from harassing his sister during a routine patrol through a remote hill village.
Glad to be away from the tedium of killing time when not on duty, Bernard had gone to the home of local guide Idir (Ahmed Hammoud) and chatted with the grandfather (Mohamed Kafi) about his experiences of losing an arm at Verdun. Bernard's own grandfather had fought at the Somme and his father had been imprisoned by the Nazis. But he had come to doubt the nobility of his own cause when he realised that those who had resisted the Third Reich with the Maquis were just as eager to deliver their homeland from an occupying force as the National Liberation Front (FLN) who had kidnapped, tortured and murdered the doctor attached to the army camp.
This action had provoked a swift reprisal and Feu-de-Bois recalls the mission, as he sits alone in his room. He talks to Solange in his head and explains that he had never mentioned such incidents in his letters (which she is reading in her own empty home) and had stuck to trivialities about daily life and his crush on Mireille (Fleur Fitoussi), the daughter of a wealthy farmer, whose estate was one of the many Pieds-noirs properties being protected by the Fifth Republic army. But Bernard had been nettled by the fact that his roots in a rustic smallholding meant he would never be considered good enough to marry her and we learn from Rabut's ruminatory voiceover that Bernard had vanished after the war and owned a garage in Paris, while hiding all trace of his wife and sons from his family.
While drowning his sorrows before heading back to camp, Bernard had got into a fight with Rabut because of his refusal to visit a nearby brothel. Février had tried to intervene and they had missed reporting back on time because a doctor had insisted on treating Rabut's wounds. As the lieutenant had waited for them to return, they had left the half-defended camp exposed overnight and the convoy had returned to find the entire force had been wiped out in a raid. The three stragglers had been blamed for causing the deaths, although the operation has been planned by one of Idir's fellow guides, Abdelmalik (Kamal Haimoud). As he remembers, Feu-de-Bois feels a pang of pity for Idir, whose family had been butchered for aiding the enemy after the signing of the Evian Accords in 1962. In his own recollection, Rabut had stuck to the mantra that they had been following orders, but Feu-de-Bois knows they had left loyal subjects to their fate.
As Rabut and Février had discussed a decade later, it had been impossible to speak about what they had witnessed and they knew they would have to spend the rest of their lives with these atrocities and betrayals on their consciences. Rabut would also know that this post-traumatic anguish had contributed to Feu-de-Bois going off the rails. But the emotions had been bottled up too long for them now to be taken into account and Rabut opts not to join the party due to arrest his cousin on the morning after the party. Solonge rolls up in her car, while Feu-de-Bois loads his rifle and stands in the window. The denouement remains unseen.
Having exposed the reality of far-right extremism in This Is Our Land, Belvaux seeks to show how it took root in this harrowing drama that requires a little more knowledge about the scarring conflict in North Africa than could be provided even by a film as potent as Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1966). The same concepts recur, however, as Belvaux explores the colonial legacy on those who served the imperialists, those who opposed them and those who live in the shadow their ideals and deeds continue to cast.
Such topics would make for discomfiting viewing on their own, but the screenplay interweaves melancholic voiceovers and unflinching flashbacks with such dexterity that the enormity of the burden borne by the veterans of the Algerian War and the extent to which it has poisoned French society ever since hits home all the more powerfully. The opening sequences leave certain questions unanswered, such as why the unidentified women who are never properly contextualised so deeply resent Feu-de-Bois taking family money to buy his sister an extravagant present. But Belvaux and editor Ludo Troch ensure that the complex material remains relatively accessible.
Production designer Frédérique Belvaux and cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines also make notable contributions. But Belvaux struggles to limn the personalities of Bernard and Rabut's comrades in arms and isn't helped by the fact that neither Yoann Zimmer nor Edouard Sulpice bear much resemblance to Gérard Depardieu and Jean-Pierre Darroussin. They produce solid performances in the modern segments, as does Catherine Frot, as she ponders the letters that her brother had sent her four decades earlier. Yet, herein lies another problem with the storyline. Feu-de-Bois laments that he hadn't told his sister the harsher truths about the war, but she was only a child at the time and would never have confided details of death and despair.
IN BED WITH VICTORIA.
Belgian star Virginie Efira received César and Lumière nominations for her performance in Julie Triet's genre-tweaking comedy, In Bed With Victoria. Following on from her improvised political satire, Age of Panic (2013), Triet has created something of contradictory anti-heroine, who reaches her happy ending as much by luck as by judgement. Brimming over with incidents and complications, this may not be a particularly engaging romcom, but it's certainly intriguing in its attempts to put a revisionist spin on the old battle of the sexes format.
Lawyer Victoria Spick (Virginie Efira) lives with her young daughters, Liv (Liv Harari) and Jeanne (Jeane Arra-Bellanger), in a cluttered flat on the outskirts of Paris. When not having casual hook-ups with strangers from online dating sites, Victoria consults a psychiatrist and a fortune-teller about prospects that are being complicated by the fact that her ex-husband, David Gonzales (Laurent Poitrenaux), is publishing a thinly disguised autofiction blog about her chaotic sex life and occasionally imprudent legal career.
While attending a wedding, Victoria bumps into Samuel Mallet (Vincent Lacoste), a drug dealer she had once defended who is keen to turn his life around by working for free as her intern. She also witnesses old friend Vincent Kossarski (Melvil Poupaud) and new partner Eve Scorr (Alice Daquet) performing an excruciatingly tacky duet in honour of Suzanna the bride (Sabrina Seyvecou). By the end of the night, however, the pair have fallen out to the extent that Eve accuses Vincent of stabbing her after a sexual assault in the garden and he convinces Victoria to represent him, even though she thinks she's too close to him to mount an objective defence.
Having asked Sam to become her new babysitter, Victoria tries to juggle the trial with a libel suit against David, as well as her online trysts. Witnessing her flailing from the sofa, Sam helps her through a panic attack. However, Victoria has misgivings about embarking upon a relationship, especially after she is suspended for six months for consorting with a witness. To make matters worse, Eve drops the case against Vincent and moves back in with him, just as Sam moves out because Victoria can no longer afford him.
A montage follows showing Victoria existing in a daze as Liv and Jeanne run amok in the flat. At her lowest ebb, she calls Sam and he encourages her to throw herself back into her work after they sleep together. He also offers to help her with background work when Eve leaves Vincent and is joined in suing him by old flame Leslie Chevalier (Claire Burger), who has accused him of sending abusive texts. Victoria also hires Christelle (Laure Calamy) to prosecute David and she has to shuttle between courtrooms in order to salvage her reputation.
She has a moment of triumph in court, however, when she discredits an animal expert who claims that Eve's Dalmatian, Jacques, is a star witness because he growls at Vincent. Moreover, she also discovers in a photo (taken by a chimpanzee who had been hired to take selfies at the wedding) that Eve had not been wearing the underwear she claimed Vincent had ripped off before forcing himself upon her. Her own case proves harder to prosecute, however, as David is a slippery customer who insists he's entitled to write about Victoria's life, as he was sharing it at the time and, therefore, lived it himself. Worse still, Sam feels taken for granted and walks out when Victoria is given a bodyguard after a disgruntled client smashes up her office.
In the depths, Victoria takes an overdose of her pills and Sam has to rush home to care for her. He gets her to court in time to give her closing summation and she wins her case. She also gets the verdict in her libel case, even though David is allowed to keep writing his blog on the proviso he changes the names. But Sam seems intent on moving out until Victoria runs into him in the lobby and confides that she has only just realised she's in love with him.
Despite the hint of ambiguity, this is a rather conventionally happy ending for film seemingly so intent on doing things differently. Victoria may sleep around and wind up with a man 15 years younger than herself, but she isn't a particularly empathetic character and it's only onetime weathergirl Virginie Efira's expressive performance that keeps viewers on her side. She has a quirky chemistry with Vincent Lacoste, but they are somewhat upstaged by the delightful duo of Liv Harari and Jeanne Arra-Beilinger, who are always up to some mischief or other and the scene in which the former rubs her mother's back while she curls up on the bed in a state of dejection is quietly touching.
The courtroom scenes are amusing enough, especially when Efira has to share the screen with a canine and a chimp, while Laurent Poitrenaux is splendidly smarmy as the disloyal discard, who cashes in on his former partner's misery while withholding maintenance payments. Melvil Poupaud's smug pal is also highly resistible and, in failing to reach a conclusive verdict over who did what on the night of the wedding, Triet leaves Alice Daquet and Claire Burger looking like hysterical women who call foul whenever they get dumped.
Production designer Olivier Meidinger stuffs Victoria's apartment with junk, which Simon Beaufils's photography keeps the anti-heroine in tight spots. Triet's script and direction also test the fallible, if sometimes wilfully erratic Victoria's mettle, as she shows that men of a certain age haven't entirely cornered the market when it comes to behaving badly. But while the `com' elements just about coalesce, the `rom' stubbornly refuses to come together, as Efira and Lacoste battle through the contrivances dictating their on-off relationship before arriving at this contradictory feminist tract's anything but persuasive fade-out reunion.
Once upon a time, Emmanuel Mouret was being feted as the next Woody Allen after writing, directing and starring in such engaging comedies of manners as Change of Address (2006), Shall We Kiss? (2007), Please, Please Me! (2009), The Art of Love (2011) and Caprice (2015). However, he remained solely behind the camera for Another Life (2013) and Mademoiselle de Joncquières (2018), which was something of a departure, as this adaptation of Denis Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist takes place in the pre-Revolutionary period. In returning to the present, Mouret remains out of sight for Love Affair(s), an intricately structured romantic comedy that has been nominated in an astonishing 14 categories at the César Awards that will be announced on 12 March.
Arriving in Vaucluse in south-eastern France, aspiring novelist Maxime (Niels Schneider) expects to be met at the station by his cousin, François (Vincent Macaigne). However, he has been called away for a few days and pregnant partner Daphné (Camelia Jordana) steps in to provide the warm welcome. She offers to show Maxime around the area and, while sightseeing, they begin discussing their recent romantic travails.
Maxime is nursing a broken heart because he has just seen two affairs go west. The morning after sleeping with Victoire (Julia Piaton), he discovers she's married and plans to return to Japan to start a family. By a curious coincidence, she happens to be the sister of old flame Sandra (Jenna Thiam), who bumps into Maxime at a party he is attending with his flatmate and fellow translator, Gaspard (Guillaume Gouix). He takes an instant dislike to Sandra and the feeling is entirely mutual until they fall passionately in love and invite Maxime to join them in the cavernous apartment that Sandra has just inherited from a distant relative.
Feeling he is hogging the conversation, Maxime asks Daphné how she came to meet François. She reveals that she was working as an editor for a recently widowed documentary film-maker (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) on whom she had developed a crush. However, on they night that what she had hoped would be a romantic dinner turned into a business meeting, she has a chance encounter with François, who sees she is upset and invites her for a drink. They wind up in bed together, but Daphné is dismayed to discover that François is married to Louise (Émilie Dequenne) and tries to break things off. But the bearded architectural engineer proves difficult to ditch and Daphné soon finds herself having an affair.
When François calls to apologise for being unavoidably detained, Maxime and Daphné continue their tour of local beauty spots. He discloses how life in the shared apartment gradually became unbearable because Gaspard and Sandra were forever bickering. Moreover, he had become besotted with her and one thing had led to another after he had offered her a shoulder to cry on. The same was also true for Daphné and François, although she had insisted that he break the news to Louise so that they didn't have to keep skulking around in the shadows. She had already spotted them together, however, and anticipates François's confession by claiming to have one of her own.
While Daphné is recalling how she and François had been invited to lunch at the new place in the country that Louise shared with Stéphane (Jean-Baptiste Anoumon), François bumps into Stéphane with his wife and children. They slip away together so that Stéphane could reveal that Louise had paid him to pose as her partner so that François wouldn't feel guilty about abandoning her for Daphné, who clearly made him happy. Her noble gesture touches François, who pays his ex-wife a visit and is reassured that she is quite content to be alone now their daughter has flown the nest.
Having spent so much time in intense conversation, Daphné and Maxime have developed feelings for one another. However, they run in to Victoire, who has recently returned to France following the break-up of her marriage. She invites them to dinner and he feels obliged to go after Daphné cries off at the last moment because the pregnant Victoire is feeling vulnerable. Her distress doesn't last long, however, as François hurries home to remind her that she has found the man who suits her. He spends the next day with Maxime and confides his discovery about Louise before his cousin returns to Paris. Daphné and Maxime have a moment together alone on the train before it departs. But, six months later, she is happy to see him choosing a Christmas tree with Victoire from the same place she has come with François.
One can scarcely think of a British entrant on Pop Idol capable of giving a performance as delicate and assured as Nouvelle Star breakout Camelia Jordana does in this charming picture. Often peering through large round glasses, she beguiles as the studious editor who knows enough about the deceptiveness of appearances to look deeper into Vincent Macaigne's gauchely impetuous suitor. She's just as effective as she listens silently to Niels Schneider's tangled tale of woe and the anguish she displays while contemplating the prospect that she has chosen the wrong man after all is heartbreaking. It would be fascinating to see her in a more expressive role, as one suspects she has the charisma and panache of a young Barbra Streisand.
Along with her co-stars, she also handles the polished dialogue with aplomb, as Mouret examines the contrast contained in the translated French title, `The Things We Say, the Things We Do'. Guillaume Gouix and Jenna Thiam also provide sparky support, as the ill-matched duo who torment Schneider with their on-off feuding. But the choicest secondary performance comes from the ever-wonderful Émilie Dequenne, who exhibits poise and maturity as the wronged wife who makes things easier for the husband who had betrayed her. She clearly craved her freedom after raising her child and putting up with Macaigne's bumbling, but her selflessness is deeply moving (even though it might be pointed out that this is a bit of male wish-fulfilment on Mouret's part in letting the adulterer off the hook so easily).
Whatever flaws there may be along these lines in the screenplay don't detract too much, however, from the thoughtfulness of the reflections on attraction, impulses, inhibitions, coupledom, commitment, secrecy, discretion, temptation, guilt, fidelity and separation. Moreover, Mouret consistently raises smiles while jerking a few tears. He's indebted to production designer David Faivre, editor Martial Salomon and cinematographer Laurent Desmet for his contrasts between the capital and the landmarks of the Vaucluse. Unlike the coiner of the English title, whoever chose the classical music passages used on the soundtrack also deserves a bonus. But this morality play is very much an actors' piece and it's beautifully judged.
Jean-Paul Salomé has enjoyed steady success since making his feature bow with Girls With Guns (1994). But, for all their polish, Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre (2001), Adventures of Arsene Lupin (2004), Female Agents (2008), The Chameleon (2010) and Playing Dead (2013) have always been at the crowdpleasing end of the spectrum. He pushes even further in that direction with Mama Weed, a study of midlife female empowerment disguised as a crime comedy.
Some might object to Isabelle Huppert playing a woman of half-Maghrebi origin, while others might point out that the English title of La Daronne is skew-whiff because the drug being sold is actually hashish. But French audiences didn't seem to care last autumn, while this variation on Jérôme Enrico's Bernadette Lafont vehicle, Paulette (2012), was providing a chucklesome escape from the pandemic blues.
Patience Portefeux (Isabelle Huppert) works as an Arabic translator for the drug squad in Paris. She finds the work stressful, as she hates seeing the way in which suspects are treated by the officers serving under her boss and part-time lover, Philippe (Hippolyte Girardot). One reason for sticking with the job is the expense of keeping her mother (Liliane Rovère) in a swish old people's home, where she is well looked after by Kadidja (Farida Ouchani), who calls her `The Princess'.
Patience also has two grown-up daughters to support, Hortense (Iris Bry) and Gabrielle (Rebecca Marder), in an apartment in the cosmopolitan Belleville district. Consequently, she is doing audio surveillance work on a couple of small-time operators called Scotch (Rachid Guellaz) and Cocoa (Mourad Boudaoud). But, despite paying off the last of the fines incurred by her crooked husband, Patience feels disgruntled and often has nightmares that prompt her to call Philippe in the middle of the night. He is amused by her stories of how her Algerian father used to steal to keep the family fed, but a chat with her mother after she has a nightmare about a speeding motorboat that took Patience back to when she was part of the outfit and used to smuggle cash inside a stuffed dog named Pompidou.
When she buys a photo of her younger self in the speedboat after seeing it in a magazine, Hortense ticks her off for wasting money when they need to tighten their belts to pay grandma's fees. However, the old spirit remains alive in Patience and, when she learns that Khadidja is the mother of Afid (Yasin Houicha), who is about to smuggle a consignment from Morocco in the false bottom of a fruit delivery van, she tips her off and proceeds to provides fake translations when Afid to warn him. He gets busted, along with his contacts, the Cherkaoui brothers (Youssef Sahraoui and Kamel Guenfoud), and Patience takes an instant dislike to them when she sees them at the precinct. They make the police dogs bark and she learns that retired animals are available to be housed as pets by members of the public.
On hearing that Afid has hidden his consignment, Patience tells Khadidja that she plans to recover it and sell it to help the family and also take a cut for her hostel fees. She chats via a video game link that can't be bugged by the cops to Khadidja's brother, Mohamed (Abbes Zahmani), but he is a misogynist hot-head and Patience promises Khadidja that they will find a way of retrieving and dealing the score themselves. Luckily, DNA was trained to sniff out drugs and he takes Patience to the wind turbine shed where Afid hid a ton and a half in blue and orange cases. Hiring a van, she removes them all just as the Cherkaouis find the spot and hides them in the lock-up room in the basement of her apartment block, without the knowledge of the superintendent, Colette Fo (Nadja Nguyen).
She then uses police wires to keep tabs on the Cherkaouis and buys herself a hijab and a pair of sunglasses to meet Scotch and Cocoa as Mrs Ben Barka, who agrees to become their new supplier. Following an exchange in the prison car park at Fleurys, Patience pays off her debts at the OAP home and to Colette, who agrees to launder money for her through the sale of her apartment. She also keeps gleaning information from Philippe to stay one step ahead of the investigation and is pleased to hear that she has earned the street nickname `La Daronne', meaning a respected older woman.
She feels bad about giving Philippe the run around, as he is keen to formalise their relationship and introduces Patience to his son on a trip to the zoo. But she gets a buzz out of being back in the game and knows she can make enough to end her money worries. However, her enterprise is jeopardised when the Cherkaouis beat up some of Scotch's pushers and she has to pull a fainting fit to avoid asking one of them about La Daronne.
Realising that Philippe and his assistant, Mika (Raphaël Quenard), are also closing in on her, she arranges to meet Scotch at Barbès to sell off the last of her stock (after having previously passed it through a locker at a local grocery store). She urges him not to use his car and keep watching his phone for messages, but he bungles and brings both the Moroccans and the cops to the rendezvous. Luckily a fuzzy CCTV screen prevents a watching officer from spotting Patience and she is able to avoid a pursuing Cherkaoui by having him chased by three bicycle cops.
Shaken by her narrow escape, Patience goes to visit her mother, whose dementia is getting worse. She lies to Philippe that she was visiting her on the day of the Barbès operation and is suspicious when he gives her a potted plant for her apartment. While getting ready to attend the wedding of Colette's daughter, Patience hears a commotion and pulls her father's gun as one of the Cherkaouis breaks down her door. But Colette has triad connections and the Moroccans are swiftly dispatched and disposed of without the police getting involved. As group photographs are taken in the nearby park, however, Patience learns that her mother has died.
In keeping with her wish to go shopping one last time, Patience and her daughters scatter her ashes in the Galeries Lafayette. She also decides to quit the police and accepts a job selling motor parts for Colette, who suggests dumping the last of the stash where she found it. Philippe helps her move out and she senses he still harbours suspicions that she is La Daronne. But her only thought is to travel to Oman and visit the grave of the husband who had died over a Caesar salad at the age of 34. She drives to a jetty and DNA hops into the back of her father's old boat, `Patience', and she speeds across the impossibly blue water with the wind ruffling the scarf that Khadidja had given her.
It's impossible to ignore the implications of Huppert's casting in the title role, but the plot does rather depend on Patience's North African heritage not being readily apparent, as racial profiling would surely have put the police on her tail a good deal sooner and with a much heavier tread. Instead, she is able to go under the radar, while exploiting her position of trust to keep ahead of the curve and disperse the odd bit of misinformation. But, while the race component is crucial, Hannelore Cayre's adaptation of her own novel feels more like a reflection on the lack of emancipation among French women of a certain age and social background, hence the contrasts between Patience, her mother and her daughters and Khadidja and Colette and the attitudes of every single male character to the women in their lives, in spite of the .
As always, Huppert plays the part with conviction and acuity, bringing a touch of mischief to the criminal activities, while also showing poignant compassion towards her ailing mother and her kindly nurse. Her relationship with the bumbling Philippe rings slightly hollow, but it's key to the plot, as he is sufficiently blinded to the truth by love and a conveniently wonky CCTV camera. The coincidence of the Moroccan attack and a Chinese wedding also feels a little strained. But Salomé has hardly set out to make a social realist tract.
He and cinematographer Julien Hirsch capture the neighbourhood bustle with aplomb, while Valérie Deseine's editing is effectively crisp in such contrasting sequences as the food market drop and the Barbès chase, which is given additional momentum by Bruno Coulais's impish score. Marité Coutard should also take credit for the colourful head coverings that Patience wears to disguise herself, although eyeliner, bright red lipstick and a large pair of sunglasses are also essential to the transformation of the red-haired Huppert that is bound to be talked about more than the film itself.
During the course of her three-decade directorial career, Anne Fontaine has managed to avoid easy categorisation. Fascinated by the `blind side' of her characters, she admits to inflicting twists of fate and moments of cruelty. But the main thing that distinguishes pictures like Dry Cleaning (1997), How I Killed My Father (2001), Nathalie (2003), In His Hands (2005), Coco Before Chanel (2009), My Worst Nightmare (2011), Adoration (2013), Gemma Bovery (2014), The Innocents (2015) and Reinventing Marvin (2017) is the sheer diversity of their subject matter. Fontaine keeps the wheels spinning with Night Shift (aka Police), a procedural that falls some way short of keeping company with such Gallic classics as Maurice Pialat's Police (1985), Bertrand Tavernier's L.627 (1992), Maïwenn's Polisse (2011) and Ladj Ly's Les Misérables (2019).
Virginie (Virginie Efira), Aristide (Omar Sy) and Erik (Grégory Gadebois) are all based at the same police precinct in Paris and Fontaine explores how they interact by linking snippets from their private lives with repeated sequences that present an incident from each of the trio's personal perspective. Married to a needy man (Cédric Vieira) who resents having to help out with their toddler, Virginie has learned to keep her emotions and opinions in check, although she often lunches with Aristide, who calls her `Miss Norway'. He likes to play the macho joker at work, but dotes on his grandmother back in Senegal, while Erik is close to reaching the end of his tether with wife Martine (Anne-Pascale Clairembourg), who gives as good as she gets in their endless arguments.
On the day she and Erik are sent to protect battered wife Sonia (Elisa Lasowski) from her husband (Emmanuel Barrouyer) while she collects her belongings, Virginie makes arrangements for an abortion. She is feeling stressed and is in no mood for the suspect's snide insults and Erik has to intervene when a scuffle breaks out. Having turned down Aristide's invitation to share a lunchtime kebab, Virginie finds herself in a van en route to a disturbance near the Gare Austerlitz. He teases her for keeping out of the melee, so she breaks the news that she's pregnant and he's the father. This weighs heavily on Aristide when he and Erik are called out to an infant mortality that causes him to snap at the mother pleading her innocence (Anne-Gaëlle Jourdain).
Back at the station, Chief Hervé (Thierry Levaret) asks for volunteers to take a suspected Tajik terrorist to Charles de Gaulle airport. Erik and Virginie agree to fill in and Aristide joins them after initially protesting that he has better things to do. We flashback to see how he and Virginie had drifted into an affair after being the last survivors of a work night out. She is surprised by how gentle he is for such an imposing figure and he discovers the ice maiden image is just for show. As they collect Asomidin Tohirov (Payman Maadi) and bundle him into the back of a police van, however, Virginie would rather focus on the job in hand rather than their personal affairs.
With Virginie in the backseat with Tohirov, Aristide takes the wheel, while Erik takes a reassuring sniff of the booze bottle he keeps in his zipper jacket. He is happy to avoid going home, but gets jittery when Virginie reads Tohirov's sealed file and comes to the conclusion that he has a solid case for asylum and seems certain to be tortured and possibly executed upon his return to Tajikistan. She removes the prisoner's handcuffs and motions with her eyes that she would make no attempt to stop him if he tried to escape. Aristide twigs what Virginie is doing and starts speeding through red lights to take temptation out of Tohirov's hands.
Complaining of feeling hungry, Aristide pulls into a fast food joint and leaves Erik guarding Tohirov, while he quizzes Virginie about her risky antics. He also asks whether she's sure the baby is his and offers to accompany her to the appointment. She claims to have everything under control, but still insists that Tohirov is a victim rather than a threat and Aristide pulls off the motorway to discuss the situation with Erik, who has been trying to talk to Tohirov, who doesn't speak a word of French. Pulling into a wooded area, Aristide and Virginie get out of the van and Erik eventually follows, having taken two long gulps at his bottle. But Tohirov is afraid that he is being set up and will be shot if he tries to escape. Consequently, he stays put and Erik orders his colleagues back into the van.
At the airport, they hand Tohirov over to the security detail. Erik is miffed that they have to wait until an hour after take-off before they can leave. But Virginie remains convinced of Tohirov's innocence and forces Aristide to stop the van so she can run back to the concourse and push through the check-in gate to board the plane and warn the pilot that his passenger poses a threat to the safety of his aircraft. Aristide backs her up and Tohirov is taken back to the detention centre.
Driving back to Paris, Erik grumbles that Virginie has ruined his unblemished record, as there is bound to be an inquiry into their actions. He receives a text from Martine (who has been phoning him through the night) informing him that she has changed the locks. As Aristide waits for Virginie at the hospital, Erik heads north and wanders out on to the beach at low tide, as the film ends.
Working from a 2016 novel by Hugo Boris, Fontaine and co-scenarist Claire Barré seek to show that police officers are human beneath their uniforms and prone to the same flaws and doubts as the rest of us. The clash between civic and moral duty may not be a particularly novel theme, but Virginie Efira, Omar Sy and Grégory Gadebois succeed in creating relatable characters, if not wholly sympathetic or believable ones. Erik may be a rulebook cop, but the pressure of the job has impacted upon his marriage and he's clearly not the easiest of husbands. Virginie's spouse is also a bit of a pill, but her affair with Aristide is unwise on a number of levels and Fontaine leaves the state of their relationship as open as that of Erik's mind at the close. No wonder she opened with the French title, POLICE, spelt backwards across the screen.
Yet, for all the excellence of the performances, the characterisation is skewed by the dictates of the highly implausible plot. Of course, cops have consciences and duty can sometimes be onerous. But the notion that a female officer about to have an abortion feels compelled to spare another life is already strained without the decision having been based on the briefest perusals of case notes that can only give Virginie the sketchiest impressions of the regrettably stereotyped deportee and his innocence or otherwise. The fact that Aristide would support her without even bothering to consider the evidence is preposterous, however, as is Erik's capitulation because he's too at the end of his tether to carry out his orders.
Energetically photographed by Yves Angelo and deftly edited by Fabrice Rouaud, the ground-laying sequences are much more accomplished, as it shows how the trio interact with each other and the extent to which their personal travails impact upon their professional judgement. It's also intriguing that, for all the human misery involved, the duties witnessed are relatively mundane and don't involve any ingenious detection or pistol-packing heroics. Yet this hard-won aura of authenticity only serves to make Virginie and Aristide's intervention and potential dereliction all the more contrived, especially as Fontaine's handling of their ethical dilemma is so ponderous. France deports over 20,000 illegal immigrants and terror suspects each year and their plight is well highlighting. But this is no more dramatically adept at doing so than Anthony Woodley's The Flood (2019).
Régis Roinsard produced his first short in 1998 and eight years have elapsed since he made his feature bow with the amusing 1950s typewriting saga, Populaire (2012). The wait resoundingly proves to have been worthwhile, however, as his sophomore outing, The Translators, is an even more highly polished thriller set in the rarefied world of publishing. Co-scripted by Daniel Presley and Romain Compingt, this intricately structured whodunit is so replete with clues, red herrings and sneaky twists that it makes Rian Johnson's Knives Out (2019) look like an idea scribbled on the back of a fag packet. What makes this such a timely release, however, is the fact that it was inspired by the experiences of those hired to translate Dan Brown's Inferno (2013), which was filmed by Ron Howard three years later and focuses on a pandemic.
At the Frankfurt Book Fair, there is great excitement when French publisher Éric Angstrom (Lambert Wilson) announces that he has secured the rights to The Man Who Did Not Want to Die, the third volume in Oscar Brach's bestselling Daedalus series, whose predecessors - The Sting of Rebecca and The Poisoned Kiss - have sold 100 million copies worldwide. As he intends simultaneously releasing the tome in multiple languages on the same day, Angstrom recruits a crack team of translators and installs them for a month in the basement of a top-secret chateau location so that not a single word of the text can be leaked online.
Relieved of their phones and shown to their quarters by Angstrum's assistant, Rose-Marie Houeix (Sara Giraudeau), those being entrusted with the first 10 pages are elegant Russian Katerina Anisinova (Olga Kurylenko); effusive Italian, Dario Farelli (Riccardo Scarmarcio); downcast Dane, Helene Tuxen (Sidse Babett Knudsen); stuttering Spaniard, Javier Casal (Edouardo Noriega); highly-strung German, Ingrid Korbel (Anna-Maria Sturm); Portuguese punk, Telma Alves (Maria Leite); bolshy Greek, Konstantinos Kedrinos (Manolis Mavromatakis); Chinese enigma, Chen Yao (Frédéric Chau); and English geek, Alex Goodman (Alex Lawther). Addressing the assembled at their desks, Angstrum explains that they will have no access to the outside world for the duration of their task. He also points out that they will be closely guarded day and night, although they will also have every amenity laid on for their comfort and amusement.
In the hope of seeing more of the manuscript, Olga (who closely associates with female character at the heart of the novels) asks for a personal audience and almost gets caught snooping in Angstrom's briefcase. After he pulls her out of the swimming pool, she decides to take Alex into her confidence as another superfan and he explains how he is desperate to meet Oscar Brach and blagged his way into the assignment by guessing the first sentence of the concluding volume by employing wordplay gambits that the writer had used on its predecessors. Olga is impressed by Alex's ingenuity and agrees that they have to beware of Dario, who appears to be something of a teacher's pet.
That evening, the translators relax over a few drinks and a game of tenpin bowling before Chen leads them in a chorus of `What the World Needs Now Is Love'. However, the lyrics come back to haunt him the next morning when Angstrom reveals that he has received a text from hackers demanding a sizeable payment to prevent the first 10 pages from being posted online. As the message ends with the song title, Chen is suspected and Dario promises Angstrom that he will root out the traitor in their midst. Taking now chances, the publisher increases the security within the main room and reminds everyone that their fees will be withheld if anything untoward happens.
Naturally, further material finds its way on to the Internet and casual phrases uttered by the translators are included in the texts increasing the ransom demands. Olga and Alex try to fathom what is going on and who to mistrust, as racial stereotypes are tested. But the gravity of the situation spirals after Helene hangs herself after Angstrom mocks her own attempt at writing a novel and his lack of concern for her demise dismays her colleagues.
A flash forward shows Angstrom in a prison meeting room conversing with an unseen person. He demands to know how the subterfuge was accomplished and fumes that his entire empire has been placed in jeopardy. However, another cutaway takes us to a small provincial town and the bookshop owned by Georges Fontaine (Patrick Bauchau). As he takes Angstrom to an upstairs room, it becomes clear that he is Oscar Brach. But what happens next will have even the shrewdest plot guesser going round in circles.
Some of the twists that follow are signposted, but Roinsard and his fellow scribes keep a number up their sleeve to be played with a flourish that is made all the more grandiloquent by editor Loic Lallemand. Indeed, his control of the material is impeccable throughout, as the escalatory action sleekly photographed by Guillaume Schiffman and driven by Jun Miyake's astute score switches from the imposing interiors designed by Sylvie Olivé to a London bedsit, a Paris Métro carriage, a backstreet photocopying store, a burning bookshop and that prison room, with its guilty occupant.
Swept along by these artful, if sometimes implausibly overblown convolutions, the players do a magnificent job of remaining poker-faced. Each has their moment in the spotlight, as they complain about their working conditions, speculate about which of their number is letting the side down and react to a suicide and a gunshot. One particularly stands out, but any comments on the quality of their performance would give the game away.
It is possible to commend Lambert Wilson, however, as it's evident from the outset that he is a capitalist shark rather than the cultured bibliophile he pretends to be and his growing fury at his inability both to staunch the leaks and discover the culprit allows Roinsard to make his points about the commodification of literature, the cultural and fiscal effects of intellectual piracy and the power of franchise fandom, For all its highbrow affectations, however, this is very much a crowdpleaser in the Da Vinci Code vein and it's to be hoped it gets a wider airing after its FFF premiere.