Bertrand Tavernier's engrossing "L.627" is about hope in a lost cause. Is hope destructive or redemptive when it has no obvious foundation?
There are few answers in this film, which might be described loosely as a cop drama. But this is no Hollywood cop drama: No cars explode, there's a barely discernible body count, and these French police officers don't chase glamorous international terrorists so much as dirt-poor, immigrant junkies and drug dealers.
Didier Bezace stars as Lucien Marguet, nicknamed Lulu, a man with a mission. One of the few drug squad detectives who still cares passionately, he's an average guy who's willing to shred red tape to get the grams off the street. And there's plenty of red tape associated with L.627, the drug statute.
Lulu's busts barely touch the invasion of drugs ravaging the city, but still he persists, lecturing HIV-positive prostitute Cecile (waif-like Lara Guirao) about her drug habit and confronting his statistics-obsessed boss Dodo (edgy Jean-Paul Comart) about his unwillingness to go for the big arrests that could make a difference.
Director Tavernier, whose credits include 1986's touching and gritty " 'Round Midnight," crafts a similar pace in this movie -- as in life, the events unfold slowly, haphazardly. Coffee breaks sometimes take on more importance than arrests.
The meandering story, written by detective Michel Alexandre and the director, creeps into your head and soon becomes gripping. It's like watching "Cops" with all of law enforcement's sloppy, seedy underside thrown in, "Dragnet" without the bad acting and moral lessons. There are no moral lessons here. It's all gray areas as the cops shield shady informers, slap around suspects and take the occasional "gratuity," as Sergeant Friday might call it.
Tenderness is almost impossible to sustain, as Lulu discovers with his wife (Cecile Garcia-Fogel). His whole world is ugly: The cops have a cookout in a vacant lot, eat lunch in dingy gray rooms and fill out endless reams of carbon-copy forms in an office that might charitably be called a shed. Dry humor and practical jokes pass the time, but these men and women are immersed in the blight they fight. "L.627" is brutal, and it's fascinating.
"L.627" is playing as part of the Baltimore International Film Festival at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, tonight at 7:30.
In French with English subtitles
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
Starring Didier Bezace, Jean-Paul Comart and Lara Guirao
Released by Kino International
Unrated (violence, nudity)