Versatile Frenchman Bertrand Tavernier’s latest film takes a hard look at up-against-it narcotic cops. reports Trevor Johnston.
Under French law. those arrested for drugs offences can be held under questioning for four days without being officially charged. provided they're given a cursory medical inspection every 2-1 hours. The regulation is known as L627 and it provides the title for the ever-unpredictable Bertrand 'I'avernier's tough new chronicle of a Parisian drugs squad‘s dogged light against the tide of trafficking currently swamping the streets of the capital.
The director himself attests that ever since the post- World War One drama Life and .‘y'utltt'ttg Bta. he'd been keen to return to the telling issues of social morality and. after a projected film about the life of a French MP fell apart due to script difficulties. a chance meeting with former police investigator Michel Andre provided him with ideal source material from which to approach the same broad area of celluloid inquiry. ‘l'd spent two years researching a project about the gulf between image and action in our current French political scene and l was very angry.‘ refiects Tavernier. who received no official co-operation from the French authorities during the shooting of I..(>27 and had to build a number of convincingly detailed sets as a result. 'Then suddenly I came across people who‘re out there doing something. but are totally forgotten by those in power. That these cops work in Portakabins in a Beirut situation says a lot about the level of knowledge of reality of the people above them. i realised that I now had another way of doing the political film l'd wanted to do in the first place.‘
In fact. Tavernier's son Nils (who had gone through his own substance abuse problems and appears in the film as a young policeman) had introduced his father
to Andre and. although the real—life experiences were a crucial component in the screenplay. it's fair to say that what has resulted is not a million kilometres away front a sort of (iallic Hill Street Blues. .'\ lengthy. episodic. multi-character police procedural. it's a much gritticr and angricr movie than we might have expected from someone whose diverse output
has always achieved a certain sense of surface polish.
We're far away here from I)eat/tti'atel1‘s (ilasgow- shot sci—fi. the artful cinematic impressionism of Sunday tn the ('attttttjv or 'Ralattl .llttlttigltt's portrait of a smoky jazzland. but even though it's a raw and undiluted urban 90s we see unfolding before us. I..()27 shares with those earlier pieces the time and the pacing to get to know its central individual at some length.
While the rest of the team (notany (‘harlotte Kady's feisty Marie) each have their part to play as the narrative unfolds in deceptively casual fashion. bespectacled l)idier Bezacc‘s Lulu is the main conduit for the film's sense of outrage. We see how a talented. streetwise officer fails to rise through the ranks because he flunks the barer relevant written exams. how sensitive operations are jeopardised by an overweening top-level desire to up arrest figures and. above all. how a lack of basic funding prevents the men and women of the law enforcement agencies
L.627: ‘not a million kilometres away from a sort of Gallic Hill Street Blues.'
from doing their job properly. 'l‘avernier invests the department‘s bureaucratic bungling with an element of wry humour. but as Lulu and his comrades work out of a shabby prefab and face continual problems in securing proper transport from the division. there's little doubt as to the seriousness of the point being tnadc.
With his fatherly interest in junkie prostitute (‘ecile’s (Lara (iuirao) ongoing battle against the habit. Lulu makes a highly sympathetic figure. drawing its to understand how job frustration boils over into violence. 011 home ground. various commentators have baulked at the rough treatment occasionally handed out by the cops to the almost exclusively North and West African suspects, but Tavernier himself is firm in defending the film against charges of racism. ‘With 1.!)27 I tried to suspend judgement as a filmmaker and let the audience work the film out for themselves,‘ he explains. ‘lt’s statistically correct but you have to remember that there are no black drug dealers. only drug dealers. I’m proud to say that the anti- discrimination organisation SOS Racisme have endorsed the film.‘
(1)27 opens at the Glasgow I'll/ll Theatre on Sunday 28 l'eln'aary.
_ Right said ' Gregg
It used to be longer, but these days Gregg Araki’s famously lop-sided haircut is a sort of Phil Oakey suedehead. A visitor to the Edinburgh Film Festival a few years back with his zilcho-budget chamber piece Three Bewlldered People In The flight, the period between our two meetings has seen him turn out another couple of features - The Long Weekend 0’ Despair (like a Smiths’ song gone West Coast chic) and, more recently, the highly controversial The Living End.
This latest offering is the 33-year-old Los Angeline wrlter/producer/director’s first movie to gain any significant distribution and his first picture in colour, but it was still made for next-to-nothing in the traditional, fiercely independent Araki way.
‘It’s both a choice and a necessity, j my particular modus operandi,’ he
explains, lengthening his vowels in typically laidback Californian fashion, ‘but the form fits the content. The Living End is about two guys on the run, so we shot it on the run. A lot of the times there’d be just the actors and me. At the start of each day we wouldn’t be sure of the schedule, so we’d just get out there and get it in \ the can, like guerrilla-style or something. We’re talking two takes maximum, so we always kept that
While Araki’s film will disappoint those whose concept of entertainment begins and ends with glossy production values, it’s the content of the film - two HIV-positive men, carefree drifter and uptight movie critic, go on a crime spree - that’s been causing ructlons among
0" FOLLOWING PAGES: LORENZO’S Oll O UNDER SIEGE O CONSENTING ADULTS
filmwatching worthies. Reactions have varied from accusations of dumb irresponsibility to plaudits for daring to express such a go-out-flghting worldview. Arakl’s own take is that The Living End pays tribute to the classics he loved as a film school student — flick Ray’s They Lived By flight, Terry Mallick’s Badlands - by reinventing them for the climate of the 905: ‘To me it’s like those love-on-the- run movies are really appropriate because they express the hostile world that gay people are living in. I didn’t want to make another AIDS movie like the others, positive and supportive, because that’s not how I feel right now. I almost called this one Fuck The World, and that’s how I see things at the moment.’ (Trevor Johnston)
[dist 26 February—l 1 March 1993.17