the dark days of 1970s, way before Giuliani, three men essentially waged a
two-front war on the so-called French Connection. Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso (a.k.a.
Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo) battled the drug ring in New York, while Magistrate
Pierre Michel crusaded against them in Marseilles. Forty-some years after
William Friedkin’s The French Connection told
the New York cops’ story Michel finally gets his own big screen treatment in Cédric
Jimenez’s The Connection (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
a Magistrate (that peculiarly French office of investigating judge) in the
juvenile crime division, Michel witnessed the devastating consequences of the drug
trade first-hand. When promoted to felony narcotics, his zeal and integrity
surprised a lot of people, particularly honest coppers like Aimé-Blanc. Michel
makes no secret of his hope to dethrone Gaetan “Tany” Zampa, the presumably
untouchable boss of the Connection’s Marseilles operation. Lacking proof
against Zampa, Michel tries to whittle away at his organization, declaring open
war on all his underlings.
as Michel’s war against Zampa escalates, things get rather ugly. Michel finds
his plans constantly undermined by corruption in the Marseilles police
department and mayor’s office. However, Zampa also starts to feel the heat from
former associates-turned-rivals, who try to move in on the weakened kingpin’s
action. The most erratic of these upstarts will be the aptly named “Crazy
Horse,” who will cause no end of headaches for Michel as well.
fans of gangster movies, The Connection is
like Christmas and your birthday all rolled together. It is obsessively
detailed and compulsively dot-connecting. Art director Patrick Schmitt’s period
décor is spot on, but the hedonistic Marseilles backdrop gives the film a vibe
more closely akin to Boogie Night than
Friedkin’s grungy street-level Oscar winner.
just a strong likeness of Michel, Jean Dujardin has the right over-sized
presence for the honest Magistrate as well. As seen in The Artist and the OSS 117 franchise,
Dujardin can play it scrupulously earnest and square, in a way that is
completely genuine and not the least bit ironic. Despite his bouts of righteous
indignation and the ultimately tragic dimensions of the tale, there is
something Capra-esque about Michel that he successfully personifies. Likewise,
Gilles Lellouche (one of the best in the business) expresses the ferocity
concealed beneath Zampa’s ice cold façade. Jimenez and Audrey Diwan’s screenplay
never valorizes the gangster, per se, but it unmistakably implies those who
succeeded him would be even worse.
after the fact, The Connection still
feels rather bold for its willingness to name names. It makes it explicitly clear
to viewers the same Marseilles that was delivering votes for Mitterrand also protected
and abetted the notorious international drug syndicate. Indeed, Gaston Deferre,
the Mayor of Marseilles, who would serve as Mitterrand’s Interior Minister (because
obviously his city was so squeaky clean), plays a critical but maddeningly
ambiguous role in the film.
An unusually ambitious sophomore film, The Connection is sprawling in scope but
profoundly jaded in its attitude, exactly like some of the best cinema from the
era it depicts. Highly recommended, it opens this Friday (5/15) in New York, at
the Landmark Sunshine.
Labels: 1970's on film, French Cinema, Gangster Films, Jean Dujardin