The French Connection: Both Sides Now

Jean Dujardin

Jean Dujardin

Director/co-writer Cédric Jimenez’s “The Connection,” based on the life/work of a relentless 70s Marseilles magistrate, Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin), although less compelling than William Friedkin‘s (state)side of the notorious heroin smuggling story is a riveting thriller, and ultimately a tragedy.  The film is buoyed up both by Dujardin’s deep understanding of the judge’s complexities and the Academy Award winning actor’s buckets of charisma. (I could watch this guy read the proverbial phone book).  The cinematography, using the hypnotic light of the  Côte d’Azur, and period-perfect sets, music, wardrobe and cars (lots of Citroëns) create an engrossing atmosphere.

As a magistrate working with juveniles, Michel is frustrated by his limits to repair young lives derailed by addiction. Promoted to major case, aligned with a task force of elite cops, Michel is determined to shut down “La French,” the colossal and wildly profitable heroin business masterminded by the amoral, explosive Gaëtan “Tany” Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), who, paradoxically, is a devoted family man.

Highly principled (and oddly fearless for himself and his beloved wife and daughters), Michel is also obsessed with winning (a prior gambling addiction, poker, is intimated) and commands raids, arrests and interrogations.  But as an outsider (he’s from Metz), to succeed in destroying Zampa and his operation, he must truly understand Marseilles. Jimenez says, the “narrative process allows the spectator to discover, along with the judge, the way the town functioned, to discover its unique codes and to pierce its secrets.” And Michel finds that corruption–the irresistible lure of money–has infected the group of cops he relies on and is woven heart deep into the fabric of Marseille’s civic life.

“The Connection” opens today at the Sunshine Cinema, and in Los Angeles, followed by a national rollout.

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