“I’m a nobody.”
In the gritty French crime drama, Tchao Pantin, Lambert (Coluche), an overweight, morose, middle-aged man covers the night shift at a Parisian petrol station. This solitary existence–with just the occasional disturbance by a passing customer seems to be the perfect situation for Lambert. Inside the tiny shop, he silently and disinterestedly watches the world go by, and when customers impatiently complain, their insults don’t seem to touch him.
One night, Bensoussan, a young Arab (Richard Anconina) comes into the shop in order to evade the police. The incident leads to an odd, seemingly casual friendship. Bensoussan begins dropping in at night to visit, and while most people would be deterred by Lambert’s laconic style, Bensoussan doesn’t seem to notice. Over time, petty thief and street pusher Bensoussan reveals the more unpleasant facts of his existence, and Lambert begins to assume a vague, fatherly role. Just as these two wildly disparate individuals form some sort of bond, tragedy strikes. Lambert is shaken out of his twilight half-existence and embarks on a course of revenge.
Tchao Pantin is a solid entry in the French crime genre, and it works well–thanks partly to the casting of Coluche as Lambert, but also thanks to the talent of director Claude Berri. The film is set in the seamy underbelly of Paris–bleak landscapes of urban decay, gloomy nights and drizzling rain complement the story’s dark moodiness. Both Lambert and Bensoussan are disconnected individuals. Bensoussan is disconnected from society by his constant acts of crime. Lambert, on the other hand–has chosen to disconnect from his emotional pain, and while his body lumbers through life, he is so emotionally dull, he doesn’t recognize feelings until it’s too late. Fans of French crime drama–especially those with a taste for French noir–should enjoy this film. In French with English subtitles.