Director Serge Bozon’s “Tip Top,” a police procedural–wrapped up in an absurdist farce, with incisive social commentary, and some comical rough sex tossed in–stars an authoritative Isabelle Huppert as an Internal Affairs Chief Superintendent, and a hilariously frumpified Sandrine Kiberlain, as her assistant, hidden behind giant 80s glasses and wearing an oversized, shapeless fisherman’s sweater
Esther Lafarge (Huppert) and Sally Marinelli (Kiberlain) are assigned to investigate the murder of Farid Benamar, an Algerian informant, who had aided the local police in Villeneuve, near Lille. The women are greeted with arrehension and only partially concealed contempt at the precinct, particularly by Captain Robert Mendès (François Damiens), who’d worked most closely with Benamar and has a new informant-in-training, Younès (Ayman Saïdi) whom he’s trying to keep under wraps.
Lafarge characterizes her job, “Fallout is our domain. And protocol even more.” She punctuates her interviews with the police and the dead’s man’s widow by banging on things, hard (people jump), reminiscent of the ferocity of Jean-Pierre Leaud popping in, asking “un aperitif?” in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Detective.”
Adopting Sally, self-described as gawky, as her protégé, Lafarge sends her to a bar frequented by Algerian men to try to suss out the identity of Mendès’ new informant. There she meets Younès, who, instantly smitten with Sally, dances for her to 3 Hürel’s irresistible “Ve Ölum,” the sequence a crazed homage to Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail.”
As the investigation proceeds, two more bodies turn up, Younès disappears, Lafarge is briefly removed from the case (“private behavior incompatible with police ethics”–the same notation that appears in Sally’s file), then reinstated (“her fairness is distinctive”). Mendès also becomes infatuated with Sally and realizes he needs Lafarge to root out the lethal corruption in his force.
Everything in “Tip Top” is way off, operating in a reality of its own: the way people dress (Mendès’ ubiquitous, ill-fitting black leather blazer, LaFarge’s Pan Am blue stewardess suit); speak (at cross purposes, much too fast, Mendès’ Arabic malapropisms, tactlessly); move (in sync, as if choreographed or unable to stay seated, slide off the top of a desk); and the lighting (washed out, harsh, often unjustified). But by the time Huppert is catching blood drops dripping from a slow-to-heal cut on the bridge of her nose (inflicted by her violinist husband during a night of passion) with her tongue, the world created by Bozon is so immersive that it all seems normal. And, have I said, really funny?
“Tip Top” will open at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Francesca Beale Theater on Friday, December 12 for a one-week run and will expand nationally in January and February 2015.
12/12. Just looked at my notes from the first time I saw “Tip Top,” when it screened as part of the Film Society’s 2014 edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. I’d scribbled a potential title for a future post: “One Hits, The Other Doesn’t.”