36th Precinct (Blu-ray)(Tartan Video, 6.14.2011)
36 Quai des Orfèvres was a huge hit in Europe and was nominated for eight Césars, but the 2004 film is only now becoming readily available in North America. It is something of a marketing challenge: too violent for fans of French cinema and too French for the action crowd. Tartan Video seems to be aiming at the latter by calling it 36th Precinct and including both subtitled and dubbed versions. As he points out in the extras, writer-director Olivier Marchal -- who appears here as an ex-con and previously acted in Guillaume Canet’s sublime Tell No One -- has created a semi-autobiographical policier inspired by events he witnessed while serving in the anti-terrorist division of the Paris police. A gang of thieves is robbing armored cars, often killing the guards. Former friends Leo Vrinks (Daniel Auteutil) and Denis Klein (Gérard Depardieu) compete to find the robbers, with the winner succeeding their just-promoted boss (André Dussolier). While neither hesitates to bend the rules, Klein is the more ruthless of the two, ultimately bringing about tragic consequences that turn Vrinks’ life upside down.
Marchal cites Sergio Leone and The Godfather as key influences, but the film this most closely resembles is Heat. The opening robbery recalls Michael Mann’s masterpiece, as does Erwann Kermorvant’s hypnotic score. Vrinks is like the Al Pacino character in Heat: a good man tormented by demons. The interplay between the two stars is one of the film's greatest strengths. Depardieu makes it clear that Klein is aware of his own evil and Catherine Marchal -- the director’s wife -- has considerable presence as Klein’s closest colleague and lover. Bonjour Tristesse co-star Mylène Demongeot is also impressive as a retired prostitute.
36 Quai des Orfèvres works as both character study and action-packed thriller. Marchal constantly moves his camera during the dialogue scenes to emphasize the restlessness of the characters and the turmoil around them. Denis Rouden’s cinematography resembles that of Michael Chapman in Taxi Driver, with the glistening green tones of the night scenes standing out in this excellent Blu-ray transfer. The film's only real weakness is Marchal's tendency to blend the existential cool of Jean-Pierre Melville's films with an almost sentimental melancholy.
Extras include a 30-minute making-of, a 10-minute interview with the director, 13 minutes about choosing the weapons used onscreen and 14 minutes about the costumes. -- Michael Adams