What hides behind the somewhat cryptic title L.627 is a stylish and gritty French police thriller. It follows an anti-narcotics unit as they go about their daily activities, trying to battle both the drug dealers, lack of funds and support from their superiors, and finally bureaucracy. Hence the title referring to a special form pertaining to narcotics. L.627 starts off rather cheerfully and casually with a rather strange choice of music, as we slowly get accustomed to the atmosphere of this hidden gem. It feels like a movie that doesn’t have any other agenda than to tell a story. A story about a flawed but just detective doing his best out there, in the real world. A world that’s cold, ruthless, and corrupt.
French wouldn’t be French if they didn’t threw in some comedy and gags along with a raw and authentic telling of the Parisian underbelly. At first, you might consider them out of place, but soon they will grow on you. It seems to be there to help us swallow this bitter pill of reality just a little bit easier. It also makes this movie approachable and I’m sure that even if you don’t specifically like these police thrillers without the main narrative, you will like this one. So, don’t expect some overarching story that will neatly wrap up at the end because this is a movie focused on the characters and the Parisian crime world. There’s also a fair bit of nudity here, just to spice things up.
Meet Lulu, an honest and committed member of the Parisian judicial police. He’s a field officer and this is the part of his job that he enjoys the most. Catching drug dealers with his friends from the squad. All of them are fighting an already lost war on drugs, old school, using informants to slowly climb the ladder and eventually get to the big boss. They are paid shit so he has to work another job, filming weddings and celebrations. This is the life of a police officer in Paris in the year of our lord Satan 1992.
L.627 is directed by famous Bertrand Tavernier (Life and Nothing But, The Princess of Montpensier, The Bait) who dedicated the movie to his ex-heroin addict son. He worked on the screenplay with a real Drug Squad detective and it fucking shows. The situations feel realistic and honest and while characters may sometimes seem larger-than-life, just remember what you were willing to go for in The Shield, for example. They attack random drivers who cut them off, beating squirmy suspects all the while being casually racist and sexist. With a smile on their face, they simply move on to the next situation. That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change. And hey, at least they’re trying to do some police work. If you’re looking for a similarly themed movie, check out hauntingly intense La Haine directed by Mathieu Kassovitz and starring Vincent Cassel.
The world is fully fleshed-out and since L.627 was released almost twenty years ago, it’s also a great period movie. Especially if you were growing up during the eighties and nineties. And while you might think that things look too fucked up and that today’s situation is much better, the reality says otherwise. The level of corruption, violence, and crime in big cities in France is on the rise, albeit limited to certain areas. The war on drugs has been exposed as a complete failure on all levels serving only corrupt politicians and high-tier criminals. French readers are free to leave a comment or two if they have some boots-on-the-ground thoughts.
Bad Lieutenant, Romeo is Bleeding, Filth, Training Day and Rampart followed pretty bad and despicable characters and were quite popular. While L.627 falls in the Dirty Harry territory, it still deserves much more attention. With a runtime of two-and-a-half hours, t’s a true French crime epic and I hope that the lack of a general storyline will not put you off from watching it. Powerful storytelling makes up for that and more. I have to admit that I didn’t watch a lot of older, cult French crime thrillers but I have seen a couple of modern ones. So, here are some recommendations: La French, Un prophète, 36 Quai des Orfèvres, MR 73 and Bronx AKA Rogue City.
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
Writer: Michel Alexandre, Bertrand Tavernier
Cast: Didier Bezace, Jean-Paul Comart, Charlotte Kady, Jean-Roger Milo, Nils Tavernier, Philippe Torreton, Lara Guirao, Jacky Pratoussy, Claude Brosset
Fun Facts: A journal of working on the film was written by Bertrand Tavernier and published in Projections Issue No. 2 which is published yearly. The journal section is called “I Wake Up, Dreaming: A Journal for 1992” and begins on page 252.