Pop Culture at its Best

Tokyo 2014: ‘The Connection’ tells the European side of events of the infamous drug operation

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The Connection
Written by Audrey Diwan and Cédric Jimenez
Directed by Cédric Jimenez
France, 2014

Not to be confused with the 1971 classic The French Connection starring Gene Hackman, director Cedric Jimenez’s second feature The Connection essentially tells the European side of events of the infamous drug operation. Academy Award-winner Jean Dujardin leads a strong cast as Pierre Michel, a magistrate stationed in Marseille, determined to cut off the supply chain but unaware of how high up corruption from the local Corsican mob has spread up the political food chain.

Through the French Connection, morphine base from Turkey was processed into dangerously pure heroin in France and smuggled to New York City, causing widespread corruption on both sides of the Atlantic in the ’60s and ’70s. Jimenez’s film, loosely based on actual events, takes off in 1975 when Michel arrives in the drug unit from the juvenile department. He’s shocked to find an office full of thumb-twiddlers and empty case files – no one even knows the kingpin’s name. Michel spurs his men into action, arresting all the petty dealers and slapping charges on later, playing dirty to send a message.

The boss, Tany Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), takes notice, as does everyone else – Michel is lauded as Marseille’s golden boy, here to save the city from its sinking reputation. Months pass as Michel waits for the chance to nab those in Zampa’s inner circle, while forces within the police force do what they can to disable the magistrate. With his cells colllapsing around him, Zampa grows anxious that the few he considers friends may turn on him. Obsessed, paranoid and power-driven, perhaps he and Michel are not so different after all.

A stylish film shot in true disco glory (the hair! the suits! the soundtrack!), The Connection looks and acts like a taut action thriller but, in the end, has little to say. Dujardin and Lellouche are powerful forces on screen, as is Céline Sallette as Michel’s wife, but as the film continues it relies less on the actors themselves to deliver than on decisions made in the editing room. Zampa and Michel are frequently juxtaposed so that we see their similarities – both family men with young children and wives who fear that one day they’ll leave the house and never come back, eliciting empathy. But then, for example, a character will die with such obvious foreshadowing that what should have been an emotional blow is crippled.

If anything the film touches on the illusion of wealth as a gateway to happiness. Shots of Zampa in the new nightclub he opens has him looking like Gatsby; isolated, introspective. Perhaps even then he knows that sense of immortality from being the alpha will not last. Like the addicts who drive the demand in the black market, Zampa has bought into a system with the false hope that he’ll make it out on the other side.

– Misa Shikuma

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