Lucien Marguet (Didier Bézace), known as “Lulu”, is a Parisian policeman assigned to the drug squad. He and his colleagues work against the clock, with little money or equipment – even in 1992, they are still using manual typewriters - against an ever-present threat.
L.627 was a very personal project for Bertrand Tavernier. It is dedicated to his son Nils, who had been a heroin addict. It was Nils who introduced his father to the film’s co-writer Michel Alexandre, an ex-cop who had never written before. The film was originally intended as a television production but financing was not forthcoming: indeed, Tavernier had to put up three million francs of his own money to enable to film to be made as a big-screen project. The title comes from the article of French legislation dealing with narcotics.
The film is made in a semi-documentary style, covering a few days in the life of the drug squad. Although there’s plenty of incident, there isn’t any overarching plot or big villain to be overcome, just the day to day struggle against a constant problem. The film emphasises teamwork rather than a lone hero. We see the cops on stakeouts, or undercover on the Metro trying to intercept a deal…and also the gallows humour and practical jokes that help them get through the day. Lulu is the major character, but others emerge, such as his boss Marie (Charlotte Kady) and Cecile (Lara Guirao), an addict and prostitute whom Lulu befriends. That last character is the only element of L.627 that seems a little stock, even though the storyline is well acted by Bézace and Guirao. Otherwise, this film seems very true to life – and ex-cops who have seen it have vouched for that. The film was accused of racism in some quarters at the time, due to the drug-dealers being black. But that, unfortunately, is the truth of the drugs problem in Paris, and one thing that L.627 avoids is political correctness.
L.627 has ninety-two speaking parts, many of whom are non-actors and about half of them making their first film. This is an early film role for Philippe Torreton, who was primarily a stage actor at the time. He became a Tavernier regular, appearing in The Bait in 1995, and playing the lead roles in Capitaine Conan (1996, and unreleased in the UK) and It All Starts Today, which is another of the five DVDs released by Optimum. Charlotte Kady is a delight as a policewoman who manages her entirely male team by means of controlled flirtation. She had appeared for Tavernier previously in Life and Nothing But and Daddy Nostalgie and became Tavernier’s girlfriend as well. Producer Alain Sarde has a bit part as a man trying to impress a woman at a wedding reception. His brother, Tavernier’s regular composer Philippe, produces a fine if sparing score.
Following a series of (intentionally) low-key character dramas, many of them period pieces, L.627 came as a surprise. There’s a real energy to it, and an anger, that sustains the near-two-and-a-half-hour running time. Sixteen years on, the film’s subject matter is as relevant as it ever was.
L.627 is one of five Tavernier films released by Optimum. The DVD is encoded for Region 2 only.
L.627 was the first Tavernier film in several years not to be shot in Scope. The IMDB gives its ratio as 1.75:1, but this DVD is actually in 1.85:1, which seems correct to me. The transfer is anamorphically enhanced and is a good one, faithful to what I remember from seeing this film in the cinema on its release. Naturalism is the key to Alain Choquart’s camerawork, but colours are solid and shadow detail fine, even in several night scenes. There is some grain and some interiors are a little murky, but that’s inevitable given the filming style.
L.627 had a digital soundtrack in the short-lived LC-Concept process, which was only used in France, so it’s a pity that the DVD could not have a 5.1 track. Outside France the film was released in plain Dolby Stereo, which is the source of the Dolby Surround track available here. Tavernier and his sound crew mixed the interiors in mono, exteriors in stereo, but there’s little difference in this track, with the surrounds being mainly used for ambience. English subtitles are optional and there are the usual eight chapter stops, particularly meagre for a film of this length.
Along with his video introduction, Tavernier provides an audio commentary in English. As usual on Optimum’s DVDs, the first part of the introduction is common to all five discs, and runs some fourteen minutes. The remainder is specific to L.627 and runs twenty-seven minutes. If you were in any doubt that this film was close to Tavernier’s heart you will no longer be after this. He spends more time on the reaction to the film than the making of it, and is moved to anger about how people of influence are willing to push the problem under the carpet. He’s justifiably proud of the fact that Steven Soderbergh drew on the film when he was making Traffic. As ever, Tavernier can digress but is worth listening to. He is more focussed in his commentary, and provides a lot of useful information on the making of the film and its aims.
The remaining extra is the theatrical trailer. which is in anamorphic 1.85:1 and runs 1:34.
8 out of 10
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