“15 hours of tricks to pay for your lawyer.”
The French term for a police informant is La Balance and just how far the police will go to get the informant they need is the subject of the film La Balance directed by Bob Swain. When a valuable informant is gunned down in the Belleville neighbourhood of Paris, the police from the 13th precinct realize that this must be the work of crime boss Roger Massina (Maurice Ronet). Belleville, a working class neighbourhood with a large Algerian immigrant population is a tough place. The inhabitants struggle for survival within its confines, and the police seem unable to penetrate this crime-soaked environment. The police want to catch Massina, but he’s too clever to get his hands dirty, and now that the best informant they had is dead, the police go looking for a new one.
The choice is Dede (Phillipe Leotard). He’s a former associate of Massina’s but their relationship went sour over a disagreement about Nicole Danet (Nathalie Baye). Nicole works as a prostitute on the streets of Belleville–and she’s still with Dede. So the police round up Nicole and Dede and begin pressuring them to cooperate.
When it comes to manipulating police informants, there’s little distinction here between the morality of the police and the people they are sent to apprehend. The denizens of the 13th precinct are a motley assortment–including a captain who fought in the Algerian war and bears a large resentment towards the immigrant population he rubs elbows with. There’s also Mathias Palouzi (Richard Berry) who’s more than just interested in Nicole. The policemen are quick to beat their suspects, and seem barely in control (one favorite game is to almost run over fellow policemen directing traffic). La Balance concentrates in depicting the dilemma of Nicole and Dede–just two losers trying to earn enough to live and mind their own business in the process. But of course, the police have other plans and will not leave this rogue couple alone until Dede agrees to become their next informant.
American Bob Swain directs La Balance, and as a result the film is an interesting hybrid of American pacing but intense French character study. At first, the police detectives don’t seem to take themselves seriously, but within a few scenes, this attitude clearly evolves into emotional and moral disconnect. If you like French crime dramas, you’ll enjoy this film for its slightly different depiction of the detectives. In French with English subtitles.