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Le Petit Lieutenant (2005)

Art House & International movie directed by Xavier Beauvois

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A fine police procedural that, half-way through, delivers an unexpected emotional wallop

  • May 6, 2011
Rating:
+3
"There was the liver, the lungs, the heart, all set out on the table like a butcher's display box," says new police lieutenant Antoine Derouere (Jalil Lespert). "This'll sound stupid but I thought of Mozart. I thought, 'How can that stuff compose music like that?'"
 
In Le Petit Lieutenant, Derouere is newly graduated from the police academy in his home town of Le Havre. He gets his first choice of an assignment, a plain-clothes homicide unit in Paris. He's ambitious and eager to get involved with real crime solving, and what better place than Paris. His wife is not thrilled. She stays in Le Havre and he goes to Paris, rents a room and meets the men in his unit. There's Captain Berrada, always called Solo, Lieutenant Nicolas Morbe, Lieutenant Patrick Belval and Officer Louis Mallet. The unit is headed by Commandant Caroline Vaudier (Nathalie Baye), who has the reputation of one of the top cops in Paris. She's in her fifties, an alcoholic who sits through Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, hasn't had a drink in two years, still mourns her son who died at 7 of meningitis. She begins to take an interest in this eager young cop. The interest isn't romantic; Derouere is as old as her son would have been had he lived.
 
The autopsy Derouere observed was his first, and it was on a tramp who had been beaten to death and left on the Seine embankment. It was the same tramp, drunk to incoherence, who'd been picked up on the street two days earlier and tossed into a cell for the night. Soon after, the team is called on to investigate the stabbing of an old man who had been robbed and thrown in the Seine. Now Vaudier mobilizes her team to try to identify the assailants, track them down and bring them in. All they have to go on is that the two might be Russian, one with the name of Piotr, who probably have no papers. They might have spent two or three days picking grapes.
 
We're off on a fascinating police procedural that takes us in and out of Paris. We see how, bit by bit, Vaudier and her team put the pieces together while she tries to keep her own demons at bay. Just as importantly, we see how her team works. We get to know these men, how they spend their time, the dull routines of their work, the plodding nature of checking out statements. We see just how tight a unit they are, and that means we get to see how they accept Derouere and how he fits in. He's the "petit" lieutenant, the new guy with no experience, and we watch while he gains experience.
 
As a police procedural, Le Petit Lieutenant works just fine. Part of the reason is that most Americans will know none of the actors except possibly Baye, and her not well. There's no distraction from seeing Hollywood faces from other roles. Part of the reason is that there isn't a single too-handsome face in the crowd. Baye is a good-looking woman who, at 57 and like Helen Mirren, doesn't have to rely on her looks to make us want to watch her. None of the cops would win a beauty contest. Even Lespert, a reasonably handsome man, is not someone you'd gawk over. If this had been a Hollywood film the producers would probably have cast Michelle Pfeiffer as Vaudier and Ryan Phillippe as Derouere. This police procedural is not only well acted, it looks real.
 
Then something happens half-way through the movie that is so unexpected it's almost shocking. If the first half of the movie was a fascinating step-by-step look at catching a couple of violent murderers, the second half takes the brakes off. The emotional content of the movie pushes straight up. It never gets teary, but there is a genuine wallop.
 
If you're not familiar with the work of that fine actress, Nathalie Baye, this is a good movie to start with. For those who have seen the excellent thriller, Tell No One, Baye played the husband’s lawyer.
A fine police procedural that, half-way through, delivers an unexpected emotional wallop A fine police procedural that, half-way through, delivers an unexpected emotional wallop A fine police procedural that, half-way through, delivers an unexpected emotional wallop

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May 07, 2011
Nice observations and thorough review.
 
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More Le Petit Lieutenant (2005) reviews
review by . July 10, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
(3 1/2) While watching `Le Petit Lieutenant' I had to keep asking myself, `Why is this movie anything better than a US crime series?' Often watching foreign movies, I have to back up and say, 'How can I judge this movie?' After all, there is a temptation to give a French movie an unfair advantage or to demote its value based on American standard or yardstick. Either way is an insult to everyone. Comparing, `Le Petit Lieutenant' to `Law and Order,' a fine American crime series, yielded some results. …
review by . April 15, 2007
Director Xavier Beauvois, with the intelligent and sensitive script he co-wrote with Cédric Anger, Guillaume Bréaud and Jean-Eric Troubat, allows us, the viewers, to look inside the minds and lives of those people who commit to police work in a manner that pays homage to a maligned group and reinstates our visceral support to the spectrum of on the edge terror mixed with spaces of ennui that these people endure. LA PETIT LIEUTENANT is not a crime film: it is a deeply touching inside view of the …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #33
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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Wiki

As long as there are cops and criminals, the police procedural will persist. The subgenre appeals to those who truly believe the devil is in the details. In his fourth feature, writer/director Xavier Beauvois may not reinvent the form, but he gets the details right. Though he hones in on one seemingly minor murder, Beauvois is mostly concerned with the plainclothes cops trying to solve it. As the story begins, Antoine (Jalil Lespert,Human Resources) has just been transferred from Normandy to Paris. He couldn't be happier, even if his wife prefers the country. Antoine loves her dearly, but he loves his job just as much. His co-workers include the Jane Tennison-like Inspector Vaudieu (César winner Nathalie Baye), veteran cop Mallet (Antoine Chappey), and Muslim cop Solo (Roschdy Zem). For the most part, they get along pretty well, especially Antoine and Vaudieu, who develops maternal feelings towards the rookie. By depicting theseflicsas fully-rounded individuals, then showing what happens when the worst possible scenario plays out, Beauvois generates an impact far greater than if he had presented them as stereotypical losers or superheroes. There's nothing trendy aboutLe Petit Lieutenant, nor is it an homage to the golden age of the procedural (Bullitt,The French Connection, etc.), but the filmmaker's attention to detail--the thrill of the chase vs. the drudgery of desk work--makesLe Petit Lieutenantthe best procedural in years. It accomplishes more in 101 ...
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Details

Director: Xavier Beauvois
Genre: Foreign
DVD Release Date: April 10, 2007
Runtime: 110 minutes
Studio: Koch Lorber Films
First to Review
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