Monday, April 27, 2020

Maurice Pialat | Police

i’ve seen love from both sides now
by Douglas Messerli

Catherine Breillat (original concept, scenario, adaptation and dialogue, with Sylvie Pialat, Jacques Fieschi, and Maurice Pialat), Maurice Pialat (director) Police / 1985, USA 1986

French director Maurice Pialat’s 1986 film, Police, shows just how close those who protect us and those would rob or kill us truly are.
        Gerard Depardieu as police detective Mangin begins the film by interviewing a Tunisian drug smuggler, as the two seem more engaged in an endless dialogue than in any true discovery of what the drug runner and his Tunisian crime family has actually done.
        Indeed, as the movie progresses, and Mangin moves on to question more and more of the family, he becomes increasingly involved with the criminals, involving them in his attempts to help him accomplish his policing.
      Eventually he even falls in love with one of the crime family’s lovers, Noria (Sophie Marceau), herself suspected of drug-dealing, revealing that this hard-nosed cop, deep-down, is a total romantic—which today we might even describe as a serial sexual-abuser, at one point dragging Noria into the police station to have furtive sex with her among the file cabinets containing, presumably, the history of criminal histories.
       Later, Mangin meets with a young teenage prostitute (Sandrine Bonnair) from a frightful family, and with hardly innocent intentions plaintively chastises her for the fact that she decclares she has never been in love: ''You're 19 and you don't believe in love!''
       Another evening he even parties with the lawyer who has been able to convince a judge to free the drug dealer.

       Yet Pialat presents these cross-over relationships with the “good” and the “bad” with a surprising complacency, never truly judging his characters. The director almost seems to indicate that this is just the way things are.
       When you daily deal with criminals some of their behavior is bound to rub off; and perhaps the criminals know more about the justice system than we ever might. In short, each live off of one another, or, at least, need each other in order to survive.
       Without deceit a police detective would no longer have a job; and without perceiving how deceit functions those who rush out to destroy our lives would not ever know how to proceed.
       In a sense, this film reminds me a little of Corneliu Porumboiu’s Politsit, adj. (Police, adjective) from 2009, about a different kind of policeman who was forced by the very bureaucracy within which he worked to destroy a young boy’s life simply for smoking a little bit of pot.
       Yet in this film the crimes are much more heinous and terrifying. The Tunisian drug family members are obviously involved in far more serious drugs. And the police detective, although he does appear to do his job, also ambiguously moves in and out of moral grounds.
       One might even argue that Mangin, himself, is “hooked,” not on drugs, but on love, as Pialat makes it clear that this widower is so very lonely that he simply cannot help himself from falling in love with his enemies. As much as he may attempt to bring them into his community in order to help, he also contaminates his activities.

      Obviously, we have all long known that there is often a thin line between those who protect us and those who prey on us. Soldiers become killers; policeman are often tempted to take advantage of their powers. Racism, murder, and mayhem accompany even the best police departments all over the world.
       Pialat’s film simply presents this as a fact, as we come to sympathize, as in Jean-Pierre Melville’s films, with both sides of the picture. Police is not so very much about those brave men in uniform who come to our side in times of danger, but about the entire activity of “policing” and what that means in real life. It’s not a sanitary activity. All men and women are carriers, of sorts, of viruses that infect our entire societies.
     As US Westerns have long shown us, small-town sheriffs often shoot others for absolutely no reason; yodeling cowboys killed innocent men and women. Pialat’s excellent film might be described as a “thriller” without any thrill.

Los Angeles, April 27, 2020
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (April 2020).

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