REVIEW — The Connection (2014)

FilmJuice have my review of Cedric Jimenez’s The Connection (a.k.a. La French), a stylish crime thriller that could be described as the French side of The French Connection.

Setting aside the fact that this is a really well-made cat-and-mouse thriller set in an impeccably realised and beautifully shot vision of 1970s Marseilles, there are two really interesting things going on in this film that elevate it above your standard crime drama and into the intellectual stratosphere occupied by the likes of David Simon’s The Wire and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet.

 

First, the film is grounded in the character study of a local magistrate who is lured into an ineffectual War on Drugs by a combination of excitement and fame. Cleverly, the film portrays the magistrate’s early ‘successes’ as fantastic nights out in which everyone drinks champagne and gets laid. This is then related back to the fact that the magistrate in question (Jean Dujardin’s Pierre Michel) has a gambling problem, thereby raising the possibility that his commitment to the job might have less to do with results and more to do with addiction:

The film suggests that Michel’s pursuit of Zampa and the insane risks he takes as part of that pursuit are just an expression of his addictive personality: Where once Michel risked everything on a turn of the card, now he risks everything by playing hunches and violating civil rights. What is the War on Drugs if not an institutionalised addiction to headlines and excitement? Maybe the reason we continue to treat addicts like criminals is that you don’t build careers in law enforcement and politics by tending to the sick.

What I really liked about this film is that while it may start off as yet another right-wing law-enforcement fantasy about a rogue magistrate trying to take down a gang by cracking balls and bending laws, the film gradually segues into a brutal critique of the assumptions underpinning this very myth. Do car-chases and fist-fights actually keep the streets clean or do they merely serve as a distraction from the intractability of major social problems and the combination of corruption and neglect that feeds them?

Second, while the film is a fictionalised account of the real-world French Connection that supplied the American drugs trade with most of its illegal heroin throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the writer and director use these fictional elements as a springboard for naming names and pointing fingers at a French establishment that allowed organised crime to flourish in the hope that it would keep French ports free from communist elements:

Jimenez’s desire to confront France’s recent political past is reminiscent of Matthieu Kassovitz’s thoroughly excellent Rebellion, a film about how Jacques Chirac allowed police to massacre protesters in an effort to win over hard-right voters in a tightly-run election. Both films are powerful, necessary and a reminder that no comparable tradition exists in British film.

When British films critique British governments, it’s usually as part of a broader social realist tradition that shows the consequences of government action rather than the combination of incompetence and indifference that informed those decisions in the first place. I also wonder whether British film’s reluctance to go after the British establishment might not be a function of the fact that many British films are made with American audiences in mind using money handed out by British institutions.

I also wonder whether British directors might not see these types of stories as more televisual than cinematic based upon the fact that Britain used to have a tradition of producing one-off dramas and plays that criticised both British society and its government.The problem is that while British TV used to have a tradition of producing politicised plays and one-off dramas, the amount of drama on British TV has now declined to the point where there’s really not much room for unpopular opinions. Of course, the excellent Red Riding trilogy was produced for TV but that came out in 2009 and I struggle to think of anything even remotely like it that has appeared since.

The Hunter (2010) – America Unter Alles

Every morning, when I turn on the radio and hear of yet another wave of revolutionary uprisings or demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa, I invariably think that such events are long overdue. But what causes a popular uprising? What makes such a thing overdue?

In the West, we have an ageing and apathetic population ruled over by a largely corrupt political class who have little or no interest in rocking the boat. However, though archly conservative and hugely selfish, the mindset of the political classes broadly mirrors the attitudes of the ageing population they claim to represent and so, despite the odd march and protest, a revolution is not likely to take place any time soon. However, in the Arab World, the picture is startlingly different.

In the Middle East and North Africa, a similarly corrupt, conservative and selfish political class is currently in power. However, unlike the West, the population of the Arab World is not conservative and apathetic but young, vibrant and idealistic. For a while now, the older political class has managed to keep the young in line by making lavish promises and allowing them to blow off steam by whipping up anti-US and anti-Israeli sentiment (despite their vocal outrage, Israeli atrocities have been a political godsend to the autocracies of the Arab world). When these fail to work, the ageing political classes use Western weapons and truncheons to put down the protestors while screaming about ‘foreign influence’. However, as the news reveals to us every morning, this tactic is rapidly starting to fail and the youth of the Arab World are starting to demand representation in the political classes of the countries they inhabit.

What makes this wave of uprisings feel overdue is the fact that they are largely the product of demographic weight.  The political algebra is quite clear:

Insufficient social and political mobility + high birth rate = revolution

But where does the truth of this equation come from? Where do revolutions start? Iranian director Rafi Pitts’ The Hunter suggests that, while revolutions begin with unhappy people, they seldom end that way as political issues have a tendency to outlive the people who first draw attention to them.

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