Le Petit Lieutenant

Runs at Varsity, Fri., Jan. 19–Thurs., Jan. 25. Not rated. 110 minutes.

Xavier Beauvois' new French policier conscientiously eschews virtually everything we've come to expect from the genre: high-concept crimes, formidable villains, bitter Bogartian heroes, action, intricacy, ethical crisis. Beauvois, who co-wrote, seems hell-bent 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' people largely keep to themselves, and drama is fastidiously avoided. Rather, as the small team of cops search 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, without ultra-naturalistic movies' tendency to fetishize detail or poeticize emotions. 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. MICHAEL ATKINSON

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