“It makes me think of Maigret.”
American crime films that centre on the police as their main characters leave me cold, but on the other hand French character-driven crime films fascinate me. Le Petit Lieutenant is another excellent French crime film that humanizes its police subjects. Le Petit Lieutenant is none other than rookie detective Antoine Derouere (Jalil Lespert). After graduating from the academy, he leaves his hometown of Le Havre and his schoolteacher wife Julie (Berangere Allaux) behind and chooses, instead a tough assignment in Paris. This decision jeopardizes his marriage, but after all, as he explains, Le Havre only sees one murder a year, and he wants action.
Action he gets in the form of a murder in which the victim is stabbed, and after the corpse is dragged from the river, Antoine recognizes the victim as a drunk hauled in the day before. The drunk, a homeless Polish man, had a pocket full of cash when he was arrested. But there’s no cash found on the corpse. This murder case leads to migrant farm workers and eventually to a hardened Russian crime duo.
Alcoholic detective, Commandant Caroline Vaudieu (Nathalie Baye) leads the investigation–think a French Helen Mirren from Prime Suspect–and her performance is superb as the woman who’s paid a terrible cost for putting much of her personal life on hold in order to follow her career. The film portrays the French detectives as vulnerable, normal human beings–flawed people who make mistakes–but in their line of work, mistakes costs lives. Le Petit Lieutenant is slow to get off the ground, but it’s worth the wait. If you enjoy this film I also recommend 36 Quai des Orfevres–In French with subtitles, Le Petit Lieutenant is directed by Xavier Beauvois.