The new work from the director of men and gods, César 2011 for best film, could be one of the favorites for the selection of the Berlinale 2021, which takes place online this year.
A gendarme angry with “indifference», Which wobbles and then falls … with Albatross, in the running for the Golden Bear in Berlin, Xavier Beauvois films unvarnished poverty in rural areas, a dark reflection of the corner of Normandy where the filmmaker lives.
The author of men and gods, which recounted the assassination of the monks of Tibhirine, Grand Prix at Cannes and César for best film, is in competition at the 71st Berlinale, which takes place until Friday, online only.
In this strong and controlled social drama, Jérémie Renier plays Laurent, commander of the gendarmerie brigade in Étretat (Seine-Maritime). From the first scene, the postcard is torn: the romantic photo shoot of an Asian tourist couple at the foot of the famous chalk cliffs is interrupted by the suicide of a man, whose body falls at their feet.
Incest, suicides, domestic violence, such is the daily lot of the gendarme in this corner of Normandy. A misery and tragedies with which Laurent somehow manages to come to terms, between the humor of the barracks and the sweetness of the home where he finds his partner and their daughter.
But everything will change when one of his acquaintances, a young farmer who is struggling with 350 euros per month and administrative worries, tries to commit suicide. Wanting to save his life, Laurent shoots and kills him. Now in his forties, with blond hair now graying, Jérémie Rénier, revealed very young by the Dardenne brothers, excels in this portrait of a man eaten away by remorse.
The death of a breeder
The director himself has lived in a 19th century farmhouse in a Norman hamlet for about fifteen years. “I’m friends with the local gendarmes, and it was by talking to them that I had the idea for the film», He explains. The trigger was also the death in 2017 of a cattle breeder from Saône-et-Loire, Jérôme Laronze, killed while rushing towards the gendarmes in a desperate gesture, he adds.
Fifteen years later The Little Lieutenant, immersed in the Parisian judicial police with Roschdy Zem and Nathalie Baye, Xavier Beauvois finds the police, “people who go where we have no right, just like the filmmakers», Recalls the latter.
“Normally a cop never pulls his gun out“, Underlines Xavier Beauvois, fascinated by the fates of”ordinary people who suddenly experience something extraordinary“.
Victor Belmondo cut his teeth
In this trip, Xavier Beauvois takes actors like Victor Belmondo, the grandson of Jean-Paul, in the role of a gendarme, or Iris Bry. But also non-professionals, locals, and her family: Marie-Julie Maille, who plays the future wife of Jérémie Renier, co-wrote the film and edited it, their daughter plays the couple’s child.
He takes advantage of the film to share his concerns about police violence, poverty or the climate crisis, as well as his love of the sea, the only way out for the main character. If he “don’t think you can change anything with movies“, Xavier Beauvois, is in unison with his characters,”angry at the general indifference“.
He looks worriedly at the Covid crisis, which erupted during the editing of the film, and its consequences. But consoles himself with his farm, his potatoes, his donkey, which he interrupts with a sound “Shut up !“When he braised, and his hens, who offered him”four fresh eggs per day“.
What to forget the cinema? Certainly not : “I have two films in my head, almost finished and ready to be written. You have to believe it anyway», Concludes Xavier Beauvois with optimism.