36 (Quai des Orfèvres) (FRENCH)

  Publicity Stills of "36"
(Courtesy from Festive Films)

Genre: Drama/Crime
Director: Olivier Marchal
Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Andre Dussolier, Valeria Golino
RunTime: 1 hr 50 mins
Released By: Festive Films & Shaw
Rating: NC-16 (Some Intimate Scenes)

Opening Day: 18 August 2005


PARIS. For several months an incredibly violent gang has been successfully holding up armoured bank vans. The chief of Police, Robert Mancini (Andre Dussolier) has been quite frank with the two lieutenants under his command, Leo Wrinks (Daniel Auteuil) and Denis Klein (Gerard Depardieu) : whoever manages to bust this gang will replace him as the "Chief" at the Police HG, located 36 Quai des Orfevres. The fight is on between these two super cops, who once were friends, and now are at odds about everything: their private lives, their methods, their staff and a woman, Camille Wrinks (Valeria Golino).

Movie Review:

A cheerless building comes to sight in the grim darkness, the high fences indicating anything but warmth. We hear a man’s cry echoing in the empty courtyard, it is one of helpless desperation, of anguish and indescribable tragedy, more affecting than a thousand words could stir. It is a simple scene, a flashback, but one of mastery – we don’t know anything yet, the movie’s barely begun, but the woe is immediate and penetrating. Perfection.

That easily sums up the feel of the entire movie – perfection. It is a story told to death: two policemen toeing the boundaries of morality, righteousness and friendship, but the movie is so well done that I gave up obsessing over the clichés and began embracing them, appreciating the skill involved in the sculpting and perfecting of the characters. Credit for that goes in no small part to the two leads, Daniel Auteil and Gerard Depardieu, both legends in their own rights. Both give equally stunning performances, the depth and ambiguity accorded to their respective roles allowing them to flex some serious acting muscle.

Auteil plays the part of Léo Vrinks, head of the BRI (rough equivalent of an Anti-Gang Squad), and Depardieu is Denis Klein, head of the BRB (Organized Crime Unit). The two units are traditional enemies but Klein and Vrinks appear to be friends, to the incredulous disbelief of Vrink’s colleague. In the simplest of terms, Vrinks plays good cop to Klein’s bad cop, the former honorable and the latter power craving. The friendship slowly dissolves as they race to nab the “Van Gang”, a brazen gang of robbers who strike in the broad daylight – whoever captures the quarry will be promoted.

In the middle of the two men stands Camille (Valeria Golino), Vrinks’s wife and Klein’s ex. The triangular relationship is only subtly hinted and thankfully never belabored; any more elaboration would have killed the pace of the movie. There are several important details involving Vrinks’s staunch subordinates, his family and his personal friend Manou, but revealing any of it will probably decrease rather than enhance your viewing pleasure. It is perhaps enough to know that nothing mentioned is unnecessary, as everything leads neatly to the final resolution.

Some may find the conclusion anti-climactic (I found it slightly contrived) but it is, in any case, gratifying. Others may find fault in the predictability of parts of the film but personally, I thought there were enough individually outstanding scenes in the movie, easily worth the price of admission, to redeem the superfluous (but necessary) segments. One of the most vivid scenes in the film involves the raiding of the house of a suspect that results in Vrinks’s violent removal from the room: the choreography is nothing short of amazing.

The first half of “36” will be no doubt be a treat for all action-lovers, the second half less so. Regardless, the movie’s ability to hit all the right buttons is constant throughout, what works is that it manages to stay interesting despite the transition from action to drama. While the first half examines the nuances and excitement involved with being a police, the second half explores the nuances and ambiguity of the two main characters.

When an operation becomes a fiasco through Klein’s reckless contribution, he uses his austere reputation to save himself – who wouldn’t? At the same time, he opportunely obtains evidence of some of Vrinks’s shady dealings, and uses them to condemn and eliminate his rival. Once again, who wouldn’t? Vrinks, for one, probably would.

The ambiguity that revolves around the seemingly righteous Vrinks elevates the character from his stereotype; he is simultaneously violent and moral, his methods and means of obtaining information no more justified, if only more romantic and gracious than Klein’s ruthless ways. And yes, Klein will stop at nothing to get to the top, but he is also merely, desperately trying to do his job, the one thing he has any shot of excelling in. The layered character study of good and bad is expert and increasingly subtle; no one is the complete “good guy” here. In fact, “good” is largely inappropriate: they are all bad, some worse than others and none better, only “less worse”.

Of all the respectable qualities this movie has, the acting is what lifts, supports and anchors the film, granting it with credibility and taut momentum. Depardieu in particular has a field day with Klein’s malevolence but, impressively, still manages to convey a defiant vulnerability under that crusty frame. Auteil with Vrinks on the other hand is dignified but conflicted and everything rueful. They are stirring, genuine, affecting and everything a director could wish for.

The shady world of these cops is beautifully shot and rich with cool hues yet it still somehow manages to appear gritty and muted; the cinematography is slick precisely because it isn’t flashy. The editing is tight but never strained, though the pace towards the end is perhaps not risky enough. Yet, with a genre and story that seemed self-exhausting, it is truly remarkable that “36” managed to surprise and amaze so frequently. As mentioned, there are several scenes that are superlative in execution and some that are less so, but by effectively punctuating strong scenes with weaker ones, vice versa, the filmmakers have created something beautifully flawed yet truly seamless. Indeed, “36” is what happens when tried and tested formulas are perfected.

Movie Rating:

(Intense, engaging and breathtaking, “36” is an exquisite melding of cinematic elements, and testament that clichés can be undone. Simply superb!)

Review by Angeline Chui


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