emotional reciprocity. Something about him is inviting even when he’s on the defensive.


In Police (1985), another collaboration with Pialat, Depardieu switches off almost everything that makes him appealing in the 1980 movie. Loulou’s bad-dude sultriness had a temporarily romanticizing effect on his worst attributes. But in Police, in which Depardieu plays the hyper-corrupt police inspector Louis Mangin, you can almost detect the moral rot in the air when Depardieu enters a room. Some of this is writing. But Depardieu, as an actor, seems to know preternaturally what kind of impact his build can have on people. (He’s 5’11”, stocky like a boxer.) Watching Loulou and Police — movies in which Depardieu is playing different brands of bad guys — back to back, I was struck by how much the feeling of being in the same room with him had shifted. He doesn't have to be speaking.


Police, like Loulou, emphasizes visual and narrative realism; particularly impressive about it is how persuasively it generates its era’s police milieu (especially its intersection with criminality) or at least generates a powerful impression of it. Because of its ethnographic-esque approach, though, 

Police admittedly teeters, for me, on being fairly hard to follow — like it's forever sprinting and oblivious as to whether its running companion can keep up. Mostly it’s about Mangin’s investigation of a Tunisian drug ring and his bad-news relationship with a beautiful young woman (Sophie Marceau) who may or may not be playing both the cops and the syndicate itself (which she may or may not be closely involved in) in equal measure.


There are so many characters in Police, and so many clashing motivations and lies told, that it wasn’t long into the feature that I reasoned there wasn’t much of a point in trying to keep it all straight. I'm not even sure Mangin can. The unfollowability, as produced by Catherine Breillat’s immersion-journalism-evoking story (the subsequent screenplay was done by her, Pialat, and a couple of others), is perhaps part of the point. This is a movie that drops us off in a maze of a world and tries to make it appear as true to life as possible. It doesn’t pause to catch us up through a conventional tool like exposition. Sometimes one of the characters, a trainee superintendent who never knows what the hell is going on but follows along excitedly, is like a stand-in for the audience. 


I am of course not that into movies with narratives that make me feel like I’m treading water at the dead center of a choppy lake. So a movie like Police is to be more admired than loved. But I enjoyed watchingf Depardieu’s eternally immoral cop, also a widower and single father (the never-seen kids are in boarding school), further descend into a darkness he has had a hand in creating. This becomes especially true toward the end of the film, by which time his Mangin has gotten way too invested in this relationship with the Marceau character that we know is not going to last. (She’s almost certainly a femme fatale in the classic film noir sense; Marceau, only 19, imbues her performance with the cool enigma of Ann Savage.) Pialat so convincingly replicates this environment that the movie has the thrill of a too-close-for-comfort ride along. Even if we feel like we’re continually being spun around watching Police, the roller-coaster excitement of being in Pialat’s hands doesn’t wane.




n Loulou, we really pay attention to the way Gérard Depardieu moves. He radiates a pugnacious sensuality that makes it evident, pretty immediately, why Nelly finds his physicality enough in lieu of any kind of meaningful 



It's obvious in Loulou that this pretty impulsive 

relationship is moving too fast — that it’s an empty vase of a union. But it’s also made clear, after a while, that Nelly is sort of hooked on the general escape Loulou provides, not merely what he can do in the sheets. His lifestyle, driven by apathy, unpredictability, and hedonism, is opposite of what she’s been living these last few years with André. It's nice to exist thinking only about the day-to-day. Loulou doesn’t have any money saved and doesn’t have or plan on getting a job; it appears as though he's keeping Nelly around less out of a love for her and more because she is willing to use her salary to pay for his flat and his other needs in addition to her own. She feeds into his caprices usually without hesitating. She is so dedicated to pleasing him, it seems, to curtail chances of him getting bored of her. I was struck by an offhand detail in one scene. While they’re walking the streets with Loulou's mother, Nelly says she’d like to buy some apples from a nearby fruit stand. Loulou says he would prefer tangerines. Nelly relinquishes her choice for his without batting an eye. 


Pialat's direction accentuates realism. The ever-present comparisons between him and American director John Cassavetes are on the money, if a bit limiting, here. The camerawork’s similarly jittery; characters talk over each other with an improvisational enthusiasm. Pialat’s screenplay, penned with his ex Arlette Langmann (the movie is partially based on her own infidelities), is habitually elliptical. The ellipticity at first seems a weakness in the storytelling, fostering ideas that this is all moving too quickly (relating to structural pacing, not the focal romance) and that these characters are akin to sketches. But eventually it reinforces what makes the movie dawdle in the memory. If there’s a hastiness and/or emptiness to all this, it’s because, in these characters’ lives, there is. We don’t know these people very well because they don’t exactly know themselves. Because they avoid prodding too much at the complications undergirding their relationships, they can't know their so-called loved ones that well, either. 


Loulou isn’t supposed to be a satisfactory romantic drama about a woman who falls in love with a man seemingly antithetical to her values, preferred way of living. It’s more a movie, I think, about a woman using an exciting new relationship she knows isn’t very productive as a void-filler — as a tool to potentially give herself a second act, since her current one is just bracing malaise. (It doesn’t help that André is possessive and easily rankled.) Nelly seems to know that no good can come of this stuff with Loulou; no good can come of her relationship with her husband, either. So why not choose the man who excites her more right now? 


There is no catharsis or recognizable “end” waiting for us at the film’s conclusion. Instead there are a couple of chilling reality checks that, once they’ve passed, suggest Nelly is both beginning to implicitly acknowledge some of her 

regrets and shift her thinking around her relationship with André. But like most else in Loulou, Pialat is more oblique than direct about such matters, which, depending on your outlook, is either frustrating or makes the film feel richer. What we do know for sure is that Nelly is in no way done searching for something — a something that, to her especially, will perhaps remain inscrutable.

the dissatisfied wife of the temperamental André (Guy Marchand), at a disco. Attraction is mutual. Before we get to know any of these people very well, Nelly falls into Loulou’s bed. The first time they have sex — or the first time we see them have sex — it’s so passionate that the mattress detaches from the frame. Almost as quickly as the affair begins, Nelly decides to leave André, who is also her employer (she keeps her job), for Loulou. She is transparent about the fact that her decision mostly has to do with the fact that sex with Loulou is really great. Good sex doesn’t last, André warns. But Loulou never stops, Nelly retorts. In Loulou (1980), which has been co-written and directed with naturalistic panache by Maurice Pialat, most people are operating like Nelly. Do something because it feels good; if you can, defer introspection to a later date — a few months from now at the earliest. 


oulou (Gérard Depardieu) is a shaggy-haired, leather jacket-wearing, small-time criminal-slash-perennial slacker. He first meets Nelly (Isabelle Huppert),

On Maurice Pialat's Loulou and Police

Smile Now, Cry Later June 30, 2020  


Double Feature

Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert in 1980's "Loulou."

Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert in 1980's Loulou.