36 Quai des Orfèvres

The second film of my EIFF experience, and here’s where I have to be upfront, I am slightly peeved at the fact that this movie held me up and I missed the following A Bittersweet Life (Dal Kom Han In Saeng), but I will try my hardest to see that one on the provided videos and DVDs, and also to drop my frustrations and concentrate on the movie I saw.

It opens superbly. The way a movie should. Single shots, fades between scenes, and emotionally charged music quiet and minimal in the background. A huge widescreen shot of a fenced complex and a scream of a man highlights an out of place and jarring camera move to tell you that man is in this building, and in great pain.


I remember sitting watching this sequence thinking that this is exactly what the big screen is there for, and that it was being fully exploited for this movie. I was sure I was in for a great cinematic experience, and this feeling continued through the titles as the movie began.

Now you’re probably reading this expecting me now to flip round and say something along the lines of “well it isn’t”, and you’d be wrong. The movie is shot superbly well, wide shots abound, and they really do use the entire screen to great effect. It looks and feels like a huge movie.

It tells the story of two sections of the French Police Force, both headed by strong and very much “old school” policemen. Léo Vrinks, the strong morale character, is played by Daniel Auteuil, and the other is Denis Klein played by Gérard Depardieu. Klein is obviously jealous of Vrinks and his team and lacks many of the qualities that Vrinks does. Vrinks is a strong leader, commands respect and sees the clear line between the good and bad guys, Klein does not.

There is one clear path of promotion to the head of the force, and Klein wants the job no matter what, whereas Vrinks would rather continue to command his team and work on the streets. It’s this ambition that begins to drive Klein, and coupled with his drinking and jealousy he soon finds that he’s taking events into his own hands.

Meanwhile Vrinks is pulled into events he can’t control and soon finds himself in the grey area between the Police and the Criminals.

Both actors perform well, although it has to be said that Depardieu steals the show over Auteuil. Auteuil’s performance lacked more visible feelings, in some extreme moments he hardly shows anything outside his words, and it stops the audience getting pulled into the character and keeps you “watching a movie”.

Depardieu, on the other hand, gets the better role and plays it to perfection. He’s angry, tired, and wants so desperately to be the good cop, the great cop, yet the more he tries the more he fails and alienates himself from those around him.

Pretty soon events for both characters are spinning hopelessly out of control and set on courses where the past is fast catching up and forcing them to a point where they will have to answer for their actions.

As I said the film is superbly shot, and has some excellent set pieces. Both the truck raid and the big arrest at the hideout are extremely well executed, and provide for a high level of action. However for me the movie stilted on a few emotional scenes, mainly with Auteuil. I guess that they didn’t carry off for me because of his lack of emotion in the scene, and I just didn’t believe in the character and what he felt enough.

The story is strong, although at a couple of points I felt that it was pulling in a different direction, trying to be too many things at once, but it was an excellent tale and came to a very satisfying conclusion.

There is a pivotal moment though that made a few people in the audience shake their heads, I shan’t go into it, but at the time you’ll think it’s far too convenient for it to happen. Happen it does though, and takes the story, and the tension between the two cops, to a new level.

It’s also here that I felt another crucial scene in the development of the Klein character is far too underplayed. Although it’s revisited later in the movie, there’s too much confusion in the scene to truly understand what happens.

There’s also a point that bothered me at the end of the movie, a none too needed moment of explanation that comes right out of the Hollywood rule book. I wish that hadn’t been there, it was one of those glaring moments of a big sign being shaken at the audience, and frankly if you missed it the first time then you shouldn’t have been watching this movie!

Finally I have to say something about the score. It’s fantastic, as one member of the Press just said next to me, “if you notice the score then you’re being pulled out of the movie”. How right he was. This score bubbled under the surface, and combined with the superb cinematography, great performances and strong script, this makes for an excellent movie.

Actually, saying that I’ve just convinced myself to upgrade that review from a three out of five to a four. There are faults with it that could have been fixed by dropping a few scenes and a more emotionally charged performance from Auteuil, but the whole package is a great movie.

Review copy on The Movie Blog

IMDB UK movie details.

My voting history on UK IMDB

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