Le Petit Lieutenant
Written by Nobuhiro Hosoki
A young and overzealous police lieutenant, Antoine (Jalil Lespert), fresh out of the academy and hungry for big action, gets assigned to a homicide unit in Paris, taking him away from his wife in the suburbs. He's soon handpicked for more duties by Caroline(Natharie Bye), a reserved, middle-aged commandant who projects onto him images of her lost son in a lingering, ill-fated incident that drives her to the bottle. After a couple years in desk jobs, she has finally returned to the beat as a street officer with decisive judgment. Meanwhile, Antoine has immersed himself into working out of a shabby police station that he's anxious to get out of.
One day, a corpse washes up from the Seine and the gritty case falls into his lap. He seizes the opportunity to unravel the case, and struggles to find clues that eventually point to two shady Russian thugs, both illegal immigrants, who prove themselves to be formidable villains. The first hour of this film doesn't present any cinematic momentum, but the series of unspectacular moments establish the chemistry Antoine has with his colleague. His eagerness leads him to pound on a criminal's door alone, leaving his partner having a quick sip of beer at a bar. In this dangerous face-to-face confrontation, he gets stabbed by the suspect, leaving him in a coma and clinging to life. The film's pace picks up considerably from here on. Unfortunately, this incident leads to a serious beef with internal affairs, and Caroline wades into a lie to save face. Although her faith is shattered, she is pretty shaken up, but one last shred of her dignity brings her back from drowning her troubles in booze once again.
The film deliberately avoids all the bullet-flying cliches of this genre, allowing its pair of distinctive lead characters to give a low-key but top-notch performance that resonates long after we leave the theater. Director Xavier Beauvois takes his time in laying the police groundwork. It's clear that he's not interested in showing off the fact that he's solved a criminal case. Sharply observant of the mundane side of police life, he opens an extraordinary window into human solidarity, leaving us with a genuine sense of camaraderie without overselling our vulnerability.
Directed by Xavier Beauvois
Written (in French, with English subtitles) by Mr. Beauvois,
Guillaume Bréaud, Jean-Eric Troubat and Cédric Anger
Director of photography: Caroline Champetier
Edited by Martine Giordano
Produced by Why Not Productions
Released by Cinema Guild.
Running time: 110 minutes.
This film is not rated.
Cast: Nathalie Baye (Caroline Vaudieu)
Jalil Lespert (Antoine Derouere)
Roschdy Zem (Solo)
Antoine Chappey (Louis Mallet)
Xavier Beauvois (Nicolas Morbe)
, and Jacques Perrin (Clermont).