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A Revival of the Police Film Genre and its Politicization PDF Print
Written by Dominique Jeannerod   
Monday, 01 December 2008

 A Revival of the Police Film Genre and its Politicization.

Le Petit Lieutenant, by Xavier Beauvois



ImageLePetitLieutenant, Xavier Beauvois´s latest movie, can be placed in the context of a documentary-like exploration of realism in contemporary French Film where, as in the work of Philippe Le Guay (Trois-Huit), and Laurent Cantet (Ressources Humaines)..., he  films a place of work. The daring element of his undertaking is to choose the Police force for his purpose, the profession which is so suffused with mythology, that it has led to a cinematic subgenre. Doing so, he succeeds in completely renewing its representation, by showing scenes that have hardly ever been presented since the beginning of the genre of French police movies. The lecture theatre where the placements of the recruits are decided, their impressive last parade in the yard of the Police training school , the physical reception of their arm  and  its psychological exploration in the loneliness of a hotel room: all these sequences highlight from the outset a new way of viewing  professional practices.


The realism with which the everyday life of a police unit is portrayed, echoes that of films by Pialat (Police) and Tavernier ( L. 627). Unlike Olivier Marchal´s 36 Quai des Orfèvres, which  anticipated   the revival of the police film genre,  Le Petit Lieutenant, whose title evokes more easily Godard’s Le petit Soldat, than Melville’s canonical stylised films, avoids both spectacular techniques and linear narrativization. The story seems, on the contrary, to distance itself from the contingencies of screenplay and plot, following a more documentary approach that places the film in a different temporality from traditional police movies. Violence is contained through the sobriety of the sequences; it is announced more than it is displayed, and frequently in an indirect, refrained way.  Beauvois follows the opposite course of police film clichés. In showing the machinery of the state and its system of repression, the movie unmasks the discrepancies and weaknesses that undermine the rationality of security policies. Staging the realistic story of a tragic failure, Le Petit Lieutenant clears up the ideologically over-freight phantasm, of a final return to order, which is often the implicit subtext to police movies. The film breaks further with those traditions in inverting current assumptions: in fact, most of the offences that the viewer can actually see, (from a variety of abuses of the law, to the taking of drugs), are committed by police officers, if sometimes in a parodical way. More tellingly, Beauvois´s movie distances itself from the ontological pessimism widespread in the police genre. He contradicts the idea of a delinquent society, by presenting victims, suspects and most of the members of the police force in an equally sympathetic and empathetic light.


In this, LePetit Lieutenant admits that, unlike Un Condé (1970), by Yves Boisset, or Police Python 357, (1975) by Alain Corneau, it does not attempt to criticize the function of the police force. The community of police officers reflects those presented alternatively in the movie: members of Alcoholic Anonymous, as well as Russian and Polish Grape-Pickers etc.  By showing how the routine of their tasks serves other communities, the film highlights the idea of public utility. It reminds us of the existence of a society behind each communities, and thus of the possibility of a social State.
Last Updated ( Monday, 01 December 2008 )
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