review by Edwin Jahiel




L.627 (1992) Directed by Bertrand Tavernier. Written by Tavernier and Michel Alexandre. Photography, Alain Choquart. Editing, Ariane Boeglin. Production design, Guy-Claude Francois. Music,Philippe Sarde. Produced by Frédéric Bourboulon and Alain Sarde Cast: Didier Bezace, Jean-Paul Comart, Charlotte Kady, Jean-Roger Milo, Nils Tavernier, et al. In French with subtitles, 145 minutes.

L.627 is (approximately) the 21st of over 30 movies made by Tavernier, who also scripted most of them. The title is that of a section of the French Code of Public Health. It deals with drugs, their dealers and users, arrests, penalties and such. In France as well as elsewhere, drugs are a major, ever-spreading problem, and a hot issue. Tavernier's decision to make a film on the subject was spurred on by his thinking that the French Establishment treated this scourge with inefficiency. Tavernier recalls a 1985 meeting with the then Prime Minister, to whom the filmmaker expressed how aghast he was at the sight of dealers peddling cocaine and heroin right outside schools or in the corridors of the subway. Replied the PM :" I asked you to talk with me about important matters!" This reinforced Tavernier's decision to make L.627.

His aim was to show what French police movies and police series did not show: endless stalkings and stake-outs, endless hours of policemen hiding in frozen or roasting, claustrophobic vehicles, petty details including in the offices, etc. Tavernier spent days with the police and their activities. His experiences convinced him that it was his civic duty to speak up, even denounce the awful conditions of the drug squads or details. By the same token, he would negate the "mythology" of French cop-movies that ape the older American styles.
Tavernier sought out a retired cop, a veteran narcotics investigator, Michel Alexandre. The two men met through Nils Tavernier, the director's son and an actor (he is also in L.627) who, to play a policeman in Catherine Breillat's "Dirty Like an Angel" (1991)had prepared with Mr. Alexandre as consultant. Tavernier Senior and Mr. Alexandre hit it off right away. The director asked the ex-lawman to write down all he could about his police experiences, Three months later, Tavernier had some 400 pages of text, including dialog.
>Tavernier's search for authenticity also included specific requests to his director of photography. Such as no changing the lighting of real, on-location shots. No cut-away shots of certain types: if a cop follows a suspect, stay on what the coop sees and don't shift to a closeup of the suspect. No fancy angles or devices of the traditional cop-movies style. And so on.

The film came out in France in September 1992. It was controversial, especially as it pulled no punches vis-à-vis reprehensible aspects of the police yet was found by some to go too easy on the cops. If L.627 has to have a label, the closest would be "docudrama," but with the stress on "docu" rather than on "drama." There are no bravura pieces, no exaggerations, no grandstanding, no romances. There are no camera-friendly beautifications--or colorful uglifications. It all looks and feels very real and, seeing that it is a Tavernier opus, it also has its share of credible humor.
>Edwin Jahiel, 4/4/03