This is the French “French Connection” with subtitles, two intensely handsome foils, Cote Azur scenery and a focus on the human aspects of the circa 1970 international drug wars.The fast cars,trendy motorcycles,guns,and discos are all here,but so are the family scenes and drudge work involved in fighting for justice and in keeping one’s henchmen in line.
Director Cedric Jimenez co-wrote “The Connection” screenplay with Audrey Diwan. A woman’s touch is evident in drawing out the humanity in each of the prime adversaries. Based on real characters and a handful of real events,we are made to care what happens to both judge and gangster. Both are family men, devoted to their wives and both are seen reading and playing with their children. Magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) and Gatean Zampa (Gilles Lellouch) will fight it out,the overly zealous enforcer and the untouchable drug king pin. Their staged meeting is thrilling. Two super egos and two opposing world views respecting each other in a way. The women (Marie,Christianne and Dora)are forces that motivate,persuade and add meaning to their men’s lives.
We meet the magistrate before we meet the Marseille Mob. Pierre Michel is counseling and coaxing a teen,Lily, to look hard at her needle tracks and to please name her pusher. He gently tells her mother to be “tough,but strong”. We see the celebration as this self-possessed, side-burned junior judge is promoted to The Organized Crime Division.
The veteran drug squad boss enlightens us with the image of an octopus,its tentacles every place: bars, casinos, slots. “They don’t stop at Bingo”! We learn when Lily returns to give the magistrate the name of her pusher that Pierre was once a gambler,who pulled himself out. Lily later dies,and the grief on Pierre’s face is Oscar-worthy. It is in this sequence that my favorite frames of a hyped and newly charged Pierre are shown. The video speed is ramped up as Dujardin walks to his car and the speed of the car is super paced next. His beginner zeal is racing in case we had any doubts what a “mad dog” he will become.
Zampa is celebrating next. He is hosting his private anniversary party, and he wants to know who a woman is that he does not recognize. He is a man aware that many are after him and that he must keep in control if he is going to maintain his untouchable status.The tailing,watching and logistics of his enterprise are shown. Labs,deliveries and associates are displayed to drum beats. We see Zampa,or Tandy as he is called,starting to wear bullet- proof vests and to drive armored cars. The war is on, and the film’s tension builds. Proud that his drugs are pure,Zampa has has met men like his adversary before. He smiles ,in one harrowing chase scene, Zampa sends Michel bottled water And a frayed glass with the message that this zealot will need it. Michel counters by taking bribe money and giving it to the drug rehab center. It is like chess is being played and your opponent is respected for his vigor.
One of the key scenes is script-orchestrated. It never really occurred. Michel has been surveiling and arresting a score of Zampa’s men. Zampa wants Michel wasted. Zampa and his sidekick tail Michel’s car. Michel stops his vehicle, gets out and walks back to Zampa with cowboy nerve. Zampa looks at him and says,”No woman ever did as much”. Michel banters back, ” I’m not into thugs”. The dialogue is good, and the massacres are score settling. “High Noon” tension is accomplished.
The cynical tenor of this film does not come from the bribes offered,but from those taken.So many higher-ups profit from the status-quo. They are never outted. Michel is taken from the case and must wait for a regime change before he can ask to be returned to it. When Michel asks the mayor of twenty-five years why he allows a rotten aide to stay,he replies,”I have a life,Pierre.”
The laudable tenor of this film is that Michel will not give up. Marital problems ensue.Marie is tired of being afraid all the time.Michel feels she is selfish. He is fighting for the Lilys of the world. She feels he is king-pin obsessed. She leaves;he cries and begs;she returns. Much happens. There are many set-ups. Michel leaves for the U.S. to help the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) take testimony from a French drug runner. The Corsican Mob retailiates as Marie puts well-dressed haricots verts on the family table. This version of the war on drugs is worth seeing,though this film is not for dreamers. Here believing that nothing is impossible has its costs.