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November 27, 2006

The Little Lieutenant

little lieutenant.jpg

Le Petit Lieutenant
Xavier Beauvois - 2005
Mars Distribution 35mm Film

In The Little Lieutenant, bedrooms, offices and kitchens are decorated with movie posters. Among the more easily recognizable posters are those for Saving Private Ryan, and Un Flic. At one point, the main character states that he was inspired to become a policeman because of the movies. Yet except for the final shot which appears to be deliberately modeled on the end of The 400 Blows, Xavier Beauvois studiously makes certain that his film is not an hommage to other cop films.

The action and drama are downplayed. Forensics is quietly observed with the camera turning away, the opposite of the "C.S.I." explorations into every body cavity. Unlike a more onventional police film, there is no sense of triumph at the end. While the film does not not replicate the tedium of police work, what Beauvois conveys is the wearying toll of the job and the coping mechanisms used by the veterans.

Although the title refers to the rookie member of a team of Parisian detectives, the film also is about the respected veteran of the team, played by Nathalie Baye. While not formally the leader of the group, the others look to her based on her years of experience. Denied a supervisory position due to her past alcoholism, Baye has chosen to return to the streets rather than work behind a desk in order to re-validate her abilities. Baye's role also bears some resemblance to that of Helen Mirren's Jane Tennyson police series.

The Little Lieutenant is about people who may wish they were living in the movies. Instead, nothing in their lives ever lives up to expectations. Even victory is short-lived, and ultimately disappointing.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 27, 2006 10:18 AM