36 (Quai Des Orfevres)

Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu and Valeria Golino
Tartan DVD
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 18 September 2006

The Parisian Chief of Police is about to retire and what he most wants, as a last trophy, is the capture and conviction of an anonymous and violent biker gang. Whoever gets the gang gets his position. This simple proposition fuels a ruthless and brutal clash between Leo Vrinks and Denis Klien, two policemen who were once partners and now due to an incident in their past have nothing but hatred and animosity between them. As the competition intensifies so does their hatred for each other, corrupting their own personal morality and leading to inevitable tragedy...

36 (2004) was directed by Olivier Marchal from a screenplay by Marchal and Julien Rappeneau and was nominated for a number of awards. To be honest, given the films superior quality, I was surprised to find that it hadn't won a single one. Both the script and the direction are flawless. The score, by Erwann Kermorvant and Axelle Renoir, cleverly avoids the usual heart pounding overblown edifice that one has come to expect from a thriller, for a more understated brooding piece that increases the tension beyond what most people could stand.

Although the actors' performances cannot be faulted the film really comes down to the relationship between Vrinks, played by the ever watchable Daniel Auteuil, and Klien, played by Gérard Depardieu. Being a great fan of both these men's work, I settled down expecting a real treat and in the end I wasn't the least bit disappointed. Power, passion and hatred positively ooze from them and in the scenes which they share together you could cut the air with a baguette. Special note should go to Valeria Golino, who plays Vrinks wife and Kliens ex-wife, not only is this actress great in both French and American films, she is just so beautiful. Just one look and you can see why both men would fight to the death for her.

As with any great thriller the film is full of unexpected plot twists, which don't let up until the last frame. Apart from the men's personal lives, which they try and keep separate from their work, their outlook and methods do not distinguish them much from the criminals which they are chasing. The only character which seems to have any moral qualms about what is happening is, not surprisingly, one of Vrinks female underlings - Verhagen, played by Catherine Marchal. I say that not to be sexist, Marchal seems to view all the male protagonists as so testosterone poisoned that it has affected their ability to make moral judgements in their work. Like the wives at home it is only the female perspective that seems to be able to distinguish between right and wrong.

As a small aside, according to the director, himself an ex-cop, everything in the film is true except for the last half hour, which was changed to give an ending which allowed for the possibility of hope and redemption.

There is a good set of audio options; French stereo, 5.1 and DTS, with subtitles, as well as an English dub. The dub version does an adequate job, but can't compare to the sheer power and authenticity that Auteuil and Depardieu bring to their roles. Listening to the dub is like listening to my impression of Cary Grant: you know you should get the voice but you just can't seem to place any well known actors which sound like a Welshman with a cold.

The extras are not bad, consisting of four featurettes, the usual Making Of (a meaty 27 mins), one on weapons (13 mins), and another on costume (14 mins) and an interview with the director (9 mins). You also get the original feature trailer and the inevitable set of trailers for other films.

Without reservation, this has got to be not only the best French thriller I've ever seen in a long long time, but is more than equal to Michael Mann's Heat (1995). If you have to watch it in the dubbed version it's still a good film but in the original French it is little short of spectacular.

Charles Packer

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