Paris, 1947. Roger Borniche sees himself as the star cop of the Sûreté
nationale, but he despises the brutal methods used by his colleagues. He has the
opportunity to prove the superiority of his more humane, methodical approach when he is
tasked with tracking down an escaped convicted killer, Émile Buisson. In
the short time since his escape from a psychiatric hospital, Buisson has managed to settle
several old scores and pull off some daring hold-ups. In spite of Borniche's self-confidence,
capturing the ruthless Buisson will be no easy task...
Based on a real-life account by police investigator- turned- best-selling novelist Roger
Borniche, Flic Story
is a compelling crime-thriller, of the kind that was hugely
popular in France in the 1970s. The glacial atmosphere, the attention
to minutiae and the moral ambiguity of police and crooks pay homage to
classic American film noir and you could easily mistake this for a film by
the great Jean-Pierre Melville, widely regarded as the master of the French gangster film.
In fact the film was directed by Jacques Deray, another well-known director
in the policier genre, and is arguably one of his best films.
The similarities with Melville's Le
are striking - and perhaps a little too obvious, except this time
Alain Delon is on the side of the law upholders, and he is anything but a gun-toting villain.
In the opening sequence, Delon is dressed and filmed in almost exactly the same way as
in Le Samourai
- and, as in that film, Delon's character is shown to be a maverick
loner who adheres to a code of honour which no one can force him to break.
The intention may have been to wrong-foot the audience from the outset and thereby make
Delon's character - an overly idealistic policeman - all the more heroic and sympathetic.
It is a simple ploy but it works well - Delon is seldom convincing when
playing the good guy, but here he is magnificent and has little difficulty engaging our sympathy.
Cast opposite Delon in this film is Jean-Louis Trintingant, another French cinema icon, who
turns in an exemplary performance. Starting out as a cold anonymous killer, Trintingant's
character is gradually revealed to be much more complex and humane. At the same
time, the police who are pursuing him find themselves
cast as the villains of the piece as they resort to
brutality and trickery. As in Melville's films, the moral
viewpoint is not set in stone but appears to shift as we get to know the
characters and understand their motivations.
In the end, the characters played by Delon and Trintingant acquire a kind of moral equivalence
- each is the moral superior in his respective milieu. The duality
that exists between the two characters is most keenly felt at the end of the film.
When the State extinguishes Buisson, Borniche too is extinguished - each is the mirror image of the other, neither
can exist without the other.
Whilst it may not have the unswerving stylistic brilliance of Jean-Pierre Melville's thrillers,
is nonetheless an absorbing, well-crafted example of the popular film policier
Its period setting lends it a quality feel and sombre mood, whilst its lead actors bring
humanity and depth to the drama, setting it apart from the bulk of the 1970s crime-thrillers
which tended to adhere to a well-worn formula in the American mould.
has an unmistakable touch of class about it.
© James Travers
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.
Other crime/drama/thriller films of the 1970s from France that you may be interested in are: André Cayatte's À chacun son enfer
Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle rouge
Jacques Deray's Flic Story
Henri Verneuil's I... comme Icare
Jean-Pierre Melville's Un flic