Police (Pialat, 1985)

I really liked this Maurice Pialat (written by Catherine Breillat!) film from 1985. It’s got that very French vibe of ’80s realistic cop dramas. I’ve never quite connected this kind of film to the late ’60s – ’70s American gritty thrillers. They have similar mise-en-scenes and similar slightly existentialist protagonists. They’re sort of just the “cop genre”: part procedural, part drama. Sometimes vaguely noir. I feel like Corneau’s Serie noire, which I haven’t seen in far too long, is related to Police this way.

Police moves fast. For being fairly talky, the first 40 minutes or so fly. There’s a lot of rapid dialogue – though not really verbal sparring; it’s more that Pialat really rapidly goes from scene to scene and takes “late-in, early-out,” to heart.

There’s a big part of the cast of Police that is Tunisian and this Parisian vs. Muslim dynamic plays out frequently. Gérard Depardieu plays Mangin, a sometimes-violent, often-mysoginistic, surprisingly sensitive police inspector. He falls for Noria (Sophie Marceau in an early role). They have a conversation, while making love, at the police station. Speaking of her former lover, Mangin comments “He’s a Muslim,” matter-of-factly (but with his own point):

Noria’s response in the second image below takes Police to a new level, finally holding Mangin at least partially accountable for some of his actions (and inactions) throughout the film:

It’s a nice scene for the immigrant politics lurking all around the film (not to mention the tight blocking, which I’ll talk more about below).

One of my favorite parts of Police is Pialat’s blocking in really tight frames. Like this sequence just a short while later, again between Mangin and Noria. Pialat keeps things in 2-shot, and basically simply dollies back and forth. He starts by following Mangin and Noria into the room. Mangin moves behind her:

As they talk, Mangin sort of paces from behind her to her side and back:

He’s not sure how to read her. We’re not sure if she’s a femme fatale, the opposite, or something totally in between. His nervous energy is matched by Pialat’s close framing and movement, continuing and ending here, as the camera gets really tight for her confession to him:

There are a bunch of moments like this. Long takes, lots of movement, tight 2-shots. It’s not a technique I see that often anymore, at least not not handheld. I like it here. It’s at once composed and elegant and frenetic.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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