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'Le Petit Lieutenant'

Xavier Beauvois's new French policier Le Petit Lieutenant conscientiously eschews virtually everything we've come to expect from the genre: high-concept crimes, formidable villains, bitter Bogart-ian heroes, action, intricacy, ethical crisis. Beauvois, who co-wrote, seems hellbent on making the most realistic cop film of all time, shruggingly consumed with downtime, small talk, minor incident, and dead ends, and he's succeeded—the narrative wouldn't have cut it in a Kojak story meeting. Strangely, this workaday glimpse of cop work-life, in which transferred young detective Jalil Lespert joins the Paris crime unit, along with recovering-alcoholic division vet Nathalie Baye, isn't even a character study—Beauvois's people largely keep to themselves, and drama is fastidiously avoided. Rather, as the small team of cops searches for a few Russian emigrés who may or may not have tossed a homeless man into a canal, it's a window on an ordinary experience. Tragedy, when it comes, does not involve us—we're kept at arm's length through to the final retribution, when we assume we have a bead on Baye's mournful frame of mind but actually know very little. That's realism.


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