review by Edwin Jahiel
L.627 (1992) Directed by Bertrand Tavernier.
Written by Tavernier and Michel Alexandre. Photography, Alain
Choquart. Editing, Ariane Boeglin. Production design, Guy-Claude
Francois. Music,Philippe Sarde. Produced by Frédéric Bourboulon and
Alain Sarde Cast: Didier Bezace, Jean-Paul Comart, Charlotte Kady,
Jean-Roger Milo, Nils Tavernier, et al. In French with subtitles,
L.627 is (approximately) the 21st of over 30 movies made by
Tavernier, who also scripted most of them. The title is that of a
section of the French Code of Public Health. It deals with drugs,
their dealers and users, arrests, penalties and such. In France as
well as elsewhere, drugs are a major, ever-spreading problem, and a
hot issue. Tavernier's decision to make a film on the subject was
spurred on by his thinking that the French Establishment treated
this scourge with inefficiency. Tavernier recalls a 1985 meeting
with the then Prime Minister, to whom the filmmaker expressed how
aghast he was at the sight of dealers peddling cocaine and heroin
right outside schools or in the corridors of the subway. Replied the
PM :" I asked you to talk with me about important matters!" This
reinforced Tavernier's decision to make L.627.
His aim was to show what French police movies and
police series did not show: endless stalkings and stake-outs,
endless hours of policemen hiding in frozen or roasting,
claustrophobic vehicles, petty details including in the offices,
etc. Tavernier spent days with the police and their activities. His
experiences convinced him that it was his civic duty to speak up,
even denounce the awful conditions of the drug squads or details. By
the same token, he would negate the "mythology" of French cop-movies
that ape the older American styles.
Tavernier sought out a retired cop, a veteran narcotics
investigator, Michel Alexandre. The two men met through Nils
Tavernier, the director's son and an actor (he is also in L.627)
who, to play a policeman in Catherine Breillat's "Dirty Like an
Angel" (1991)had prepared with Mr. Alexandre as consultant.
Tavernier Senior and Mr. Alexandre hit it off right away. The
director asked the ex-lawman to write down all he could about his
police experiences, Three months later, Tavernier had some 400 pages
of text, including dialog.
>Tavernier's search for authenticity also included specific requests
to his director of photography. Such as no changing the lighting of
real, on-location shots. No cut-away shots of certain types: if a
cop follows a suspect, stay on what the coop sees and don't shift to
a closeup of the suspect. No fancy angles or devices of the
traditional cop-movies style. And so on.
The film came out in France in September 1992. It was controversial,
especially as it pulled no punches vis-à-vis reprehensible aspects
of the police yet was found by some to go too easy on the cops. If
L.627 has to have a label, the closest would be "docudrama,"
but with the stress on "docu" rather than on "drama." There are no
bravura pieces, no exaggerations, no grandstanding, no romances.
There are no camera-friendly beautifications--or colorful
uglifications. It all looks and feels very real and, seeing that it
is a Tavernier opus, it also has its share of credible humor.
>Edwin Jahiel, 4/4/03