The recent spate of French gangster re-releases (at least five in the past four years) may testify to an insatiable public fascination for this most enduring (and copied) of genres, but as demonstrated by Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief, transplanting its stoic brand of cool to a contemporary milieu can be treacherous work. Though not a remake, Manuel Boursinhac’s The Code is an unmistakably Melvillian exercise—a meticulous study in urban tribalism and criminal predestination. But while Melville’s films strike a pose of ironic bloodlessness, The Code attends to a thick stew of (soap-) operatic emotion, turning each internecine skirmish into an occasion for melodramatic brooding. Melville once described his films as comedies; The Code, unfortunately, knows no such wit.
We’ve seen this before: Newly sprung hood Dris (Samuel Le Bihan) wants to lead a quiet life with his girlfriend, but one morning fellow goon Yanis (Samy Naceri) pays the happy couple a visit, and before you can say “rififi,” Dris is back in the game. Boursinhac takes great care to de-glamorize la vie des gangsters, shooting entirely in Paris’s multiculti burbs, where apartment projects and trailer parks form an ashen vista of go-nowhereness. (Dris and crew’s Arab ethnicity seems bizarrely like a shared metaphysical burden.) With its somber take on minor-league criminality, The Code (as in “of the streets”) strongly resembles James Gray’s The Yards, particularly in its depiction of a homoerotic bond between its male leads. Hotheaded Yanis grows increasingly jealous of Dris, clinging to him with a scary intensity while forever insisting, “I’m not a faggot.” Backed into a corner in one scene, Yanis turns to his best friend and asks, “What should I do now, bend over?” The code, indeed.