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In the underbelly of the Parisian criminal world, the Police are frustrated by a gang committing a series of violent robberies. Leo Vrinks and Denis Klein are two cops seeking promotion, and the imminent departure of the Chief sets the scene for them to compete for the vacant throne. The competition between them becomes increasingly ruthless and blurs the usual lines of morality, until there seems no difference between the police and the criminals they chase. Vrinks, meeting with a source, becomes involved with a murder. Klein seizes the opportunity to up the ante and arranges for the arrest of Vrinks, but when he goes further and viciously involves Vrinks' wife, Camille, revenge is inevitable. Written by
I had the privilege of seeing this film at the Lincoln Center (NY City) Rendezvous with French Cinema in March 2005 with the director, Olivier Marchal, in attendance.
The film stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, and Valeria Golino. The two male leads play rivals for the position of Chief of Police in the same district of Paris. Depardieu's character is the heavy and the actor does a magnificent job. But so does Auteuil as the "good guy" and Golino as his wife. Marchal both wrote and directed this film, drawing on his former life as, in fact, a Paris cop and based the events in the film on some real occurrences from the 80s in Paris. There are drug dealers and corrupt cops, to be sure, but what gives this film tremendous power is the combination of the superb acting and a tough, smart script.
The current chief is in line to a promotion to commissioner and knows the personalities of the two rivals well--so well, in fact, that he engages in some devious manipulative actions to set them against each other. The resulting tension and conflict between these two is what gives the film its tremendous momentum. The plotting is perfect; this film does everything it's supposed to do, and a lot more, to grab the viewer by the throat and not let go until the end.
Upon conclusion of the film, the director was bombarded with questions. One of them was whether or not the film has American distribution. One would think that with two French mega-stars like Auteuil and Depardieu, no problem, right? Wrong. Marchal indicated that the film was picked up for distribution throughout the world EXCEPT in the US. It is my fervent hope that some American studio/distributor smartens up and then snaps up this film which is, without question, the absolute best policier in more than 20 years. The last great film in this genre from France was La Balance, directed, interestingly enough, by an American ex-pat, Bob Swaim. That was in 1982. Even Tavernier's L.627, 1992, is not a strong contender.
But 36 Quai des Orfevres is the real deal. The title refers to the street address of the district precinct station whose sign, in a nifty opening sequence, is ripped off by...well, you'll just have to see for yourself.
Very highly recommended. A great thriller--formidable! (French for terrific).
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