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The Connection | 2015 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Review

Le Chapitre Français: Jimenez’s Satisfactory Take on Famed Drug Smuggling Operation

Cedric Jimenez The Connection PosterWithin the glut of cinematic dramas and thrillers contending with drug smuggling operations and underworld criminal organizations, epically administered and otherwise, Cedric Jimenez’s sophomore feature, The Connection (aka La French) may not appear to be anything special. And the truth of the matter is, it really isn’t, except for the fact that it’s loosely related to the long spanning series of drug related operations referred to as ‘the French Connection,’ which, of course, inspired William Friedkin’s iconic 1971 film The French Connection (which won Best Picture and spawned a John Frankenheimer directed sequel). Sporting an impressive production value and a handsome cast, Jimenez definitely gets the look and feel right, as far as our expectations are calibrated for how these things go. And yet, there’s something innately underwhelming about all this, and though Jimenez is, arguably, presenting us with a ‘fresh’ perspective, it doesn’t manage to provide any enlightenment.

It’s 1975, and Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin), a magistrate heading up the Juvenile division is reassigned to overseeing organized crime thanks to his prowess. With exceptional zeal, Michel tackles the considerable trafficking that’s been plaguing Marseilles, and we’re soon told that it’s his name on the tips of everyone’s tongues. Having grown close to a few youths, one in particular that overdoses on heroin, Michel takes his mission personally, aiming to topple the head of the organization, run by kingpin Tany Zampa (Gilles Lelouche). At first, Michel proves to be quite successful in his pursuits, but eventually hits an invisible wall when he discovers that internal corruption is causing a standstill. Meanwhile, Zampa begins to feel the heat, and Michel’s pursuit causes unrest in his faction, leading other criminals to encroach on his territory, such as Crazy Horse (Benoit Magimel), which leads to violence. Distracted by issues at home when his wife (Celine Sallette) decides to leave him due to his obsession with work, Michel is eventually taken off the case when he openly challenges the crooked mayor. But several years later, in 1981, the mayor is made to be minister of the interior by new president Francois Mitterand, and suddenly, Michel has the opportunity to take down his foe.

Jimenez has snagged comparison to earlier works of Scorsese, but the likeness is superficial. If anything, The Connection somewhat recalls Guillaume Canet’s 2013 drug fueled NYC period piece, Blood Ties in that both films have considerable potential yet sometimes underwhelm. Of those two, Jimenez’s is superior, but he seems incredibly gun-shy in representation of the feminine (unlike Scorsese). We get moments with the wives of these opposing forces, with Celine Sallette outshining the mob moll played by Melanie Doutey, yet it’s an incredibly thankless role, especially for an accomplished actress like Sallette. For a majority of the running time, Lelouche is a stone-faced pit-bull, betraying an emotional capability very seldomly until the film’s last segment. He opens a nightclub, ironically titled Krypton, for his wife, which lends the film a groovy disco infected vibe.

There’s an empty decadence to the Zampas, but we learn very little about them beyond their fancy, acquired tastes. “I’m craving sea urchin,” yawns Zampa’s wife. But the winning attribute here is a very likeable Dujardin, dressed up in smart vintage suits and a pair of killer sideburns. It’s too bad that the rest of the film lacks this suaveness, as the screenplay sometimes seems borderline ridiculous, especially in the initial set up where people are saying things like “their smack is deadly hell.” Guillaume Roussel’s energetic score is certainly worth nothing, while Jiminez also works Sheila’s cover of Sonny Bono’s “Bang-Bang” into the mix (though perhaps not as effectively as Francois Ozon’s short “A Summer Dress”).

Reviewed on March 7th at the 2015 Rendezvous w/French Cinema at Film Society Lincoln Center – 135 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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