After recently watching Bertrand Tavernier’s “In the Electric Mist”, that film made me miss “L.627” all the more. While “In the Electric Mist” isn’t a complete failure, it’s mixture of Southern gothic, hard boiled detective novels and clunky exposition doesn’t seem to represent the best of Tavernier’s senses. A French filmmaker not afraid to put himself on the line and film a quintessential “American” story (see “Round Midnight”, even though it documents the musician’s exploits in France), Tavernier’s 1992 film “L.627” is his masterpiece…. and still not available for digestion on region 1 DVD.
My love of the “police procedural” genre is well documented around these parts, and “L.627” could be considered the boiled-down essence of this style of filmmaking. Starring Didier Bezace as Lulu, he’s a dedicated and no-nonsense police detective who leads a small group of undercover officers in all areas of vice in France- and in fact, the film’s title comes from a police law that criminalizes drugs and prostitution. The day-to-day work of these officers is filmed in great detail. Marginalized in other police films in favor of the grand shoot-out or car chase, “L.627” reverts its gaze on the mundane details of their police work. Sure, there are stake-outs and foot chases (rendered in calculated long takes that stays on the cops rather than the crooks), but Tavernier’s film deals most explicitly in the typewriting, the questioning of criminals in their cramped quarters, and the joking that exists between the cops in order to survive their days. In the wrong hands, this could be a crushing bore. But with Tavernier, he infuses every frame with generosity, curiosity and a knack for hitting the quiet brilliance within this fictionalized (but very real) slice of life.
But, “L.627” isn’t all doldrums. The real spark of the film comes in Lulu’s dogged (and platonic) relationship with a hooker named Marie (Charlotte Kady). Interspersed between his ethical commitment to ridding the Parisian streets of drugs, his affection for this down and out spirit resonates strongly throughout… and it provides us with an ending that still to this day stands as one of the most perfect I’ve ever seen. Tavernier’s film belongs to a strict code of film overseas that places significant focus on work and it’s altering effect on the individual. Thinking of Laurent Cantet’s “Time Out” (which deals with the insufferable purgatory that invades a man after losing his job) or Jean Claude Brisseau’s “Secret Machines” (which is an aggressive assault on sexuality and manipulation within the corporate meat-grinder), French filmmakers are simply attuned to the gaps between life and work. “L.627” could be described as the ultimate testimony on work as life. All of this may sound boring, but beauty (and justice) lies in the details.
@ Joseph B.