Le Petit Lieutenant Xavier Beauvois

The content of this French police procedural isn’t that much different from the average Steven Bochco series, but its visual handling of the material makes it seem more than the sum of its parts. The main character (so we think) is freshly minted detective Antoine (Jalil Lespert), who on a whim takes a job in Paris, far from his family and his Normandy stomping grounds. He’s looking for more excitement than a sleepy small town can provide but the rookie gets more than he bargains for when his unit, presided over by recovering alcoholic Caro Vaudieu (Nathalie Baye), becomes embroiled in the mysterious murders of various street people. Still, Antoine thinks he’s where he wants to be right up until his partner lets him down. Technically, the film isn’t doing much more than the average "adult” cop show — name-checking departmental complexities like alcoholism, racism and job stress without actually having much to say on the subjects. We experience these topics as badges of honour rather than subjects to be explored; they’re used for verisimilitude and not for any intellectual reason. Still, the whole thing seems far more serious than it is thanks to two things: Xavier Beauvois’ direction and the Psycho-ish dispatching of a major character halfway through the movie. The former is so subdued and naturalistic that you believe real people are speaking the sometimes-stilted dialogue; the latter shatters the narrative we think we’re watching and confronts us with the hapless victim’s loss as a person. And while none of this makes the film special, it makes it compulsively watchable even if you’re not taken in. The only extra: a photo gallery. (Mongrel Media)