Dir.: Cedric Jimenez
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Gills Lellouche, Celine Sallete, Melanie Doutey, Benôit Magimel
France/Belgium 2014, 135 min.
Nobody can accuse director Cedric Jimenez (AUX YEUX DE TONS) of not going all out for maximal effect: his drugs and cops thriller, set in a late 70s Marseille, is a tour-de-force of violence, emotion and, above all, nostalgia for an era where the Marseille gangsters shipped their heroin products West to flood the streets of New York, while making their hometown look like a sunnier version of Chicago.
The two main protagonists are fairly similar characters: police magistrate Pierre Michel (Dujardin), who is transferred from Metz to lead the campaign against the drug-tsar Gaetan ‘Tany’ Zampa (Lellouche) – the latter ruling the city with the help of a corrupt police force. There was certainly a terrified atmosphere in Marseille (director Jimenez grew up in the city during the period covered by the film), not surprisingly, since public executions saw pedestrians running for their lives. Zampa did not tolerate dissent from his own crew, or rivals like the psychotic ‘Le Fou’ (Magimel), the latter being tacitly supported by Michel, to weaken Zampa.
But Jimenez is brave enough to show all the parallels between the rivals: Pierre’s wife Jacqueline (Sallete) accuses her husband rightly of being on drugs himself: he had a gambling obsession, and treats the fight with Zampa with the same obsessional quality as his poker nights in the past. And Zampa’s equally suffering wife Christiane (Doutey), is just a victim of the exploding violence by which she is surrounded. When Michel and Zampa meet on a cliff overlooking the sea, the intransigence of both macho characters ends in a Mexican stand-off: policeman and gangster hooked in a fight of egos, not morals or ethics.
THE CONNECTION, shot in 35mm by Laurent Tangy, is proof that HD will never replace real film. The atmosphere of the 7os cannot be recreated with the cold light of HD; and Tangy makes the audience feel the warmth of the sun and the wonderful retro cars, and the clash of the beauty of the city and the surrounding landscape with the utter violence staged throughout. Dujardin (The Artist) fits very well into this bygone era, he is yesterday’s hero, much too close in character to the villain he is fighting. This ambivalence is an overall impression which Jimenez and co-writer Audrey Diwan achieved already in the thriller Aux yeux de Tons. The sun-bleached images in THE CONNECTION are the perfect backdrop to an old-fashioned gangster movie, which relies on emotional depth much more than on a realistic narrative, in spite of its claim to be based on real events.
One can look forward to the release in 2016 of the next Jimenez/Diwan co-operation, HHHH (Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich), based on the novel by Laurent Binet, which deals with the sadistic personality of the SS’ second in command, Reinhard Heydrich, who was assassinated in Prague in 1942 by members of Czech resistance flown in from London. AS
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