emotional reciprocity. Something is inviting about him even when he’s on the defensive. In “Police” (1985), by contrast, Depardieu switches off almost everything that makes him appealing in the 1980 movie. Loulou’s bad-dude sultriness had something of a temporary romanticizing effect on his worst attributes. But in “Police,” in which Depardieu plays the long-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 preternaturally know what kind of impact his build can have on people. (He’s 5’11”, and is stocky like a boxer.) Watching “Loulou” and “Police” — movies wherein 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, even in wordless moments.
Depardieu’s performance is the reason to watch “Police,” which, like “Loulou,” was directed by Pialat (the actor is one of his foremost collaborators). It, too, emphasizes visual realism. Particularly impressive about it is how persuasively it generates its era’s police milieu — especially its intersection with criminality. (Most of the people Mangin hangs out with outside of work are people he has at some point arrested.)
“Police” teeters on being totally unfollowable. 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 in equal measure. But there are so many characters in the movie and so many clashing motivations and lies told that it wasn’t long into the feature that I reasoned there wasn’t much 0f a point in trying to keep it all straight. The unfollowability, as generated 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 thrusts us into a labyrinthine scenario, trying to make it land as true to life as possible, and doesn’t slow down and catch us up via 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 of course am not addicted to movies featuring narratives that make me feel like I’m treading water in the dead center of a choppy lake. A movie like “Police” is to be more admired than loved. But I liked to watch Depardieu’s eternally immoral cop, also a widower and single father (the never-seen kids are in boarding school), further descend into the darkness that he has partially had a hand in creating. This becomes especially true toward the end of the feature, 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.) And Pialat so convincingly conjures this sphere 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 unpredictable hands doesn’t wane.
n “Loulou,” we really pay attention to the way Depardieu moves. He radiates a sort of pugnacious sensuality that makes it obvious, pretty immediately, why Nelly finds his physicality enough in lieu of any kind of meaningful
There is a sense, in “Loulou,” that this relationship is moving too fast — that it’s an empty vase of a union. But it’s clear, after a while, that the former is sort of hooked on the escape Loulou provides. His lifestyle, driven by apathy (he refuses to work steadily) and hedonism, is opposite of what she’s been living the last few years with André. Loulou, who doesn’t have any money and doesn’t have or plan on getting a job, is keeping Nelly around less out of love for her and more because she is willing to use her salary to pay for his flat and other needs. She feeds into his caprices usually without hesitating. She is so dedicated to pleasing him, it seems, to curtail chances of him getting bored with her. I was most struck by an offhand detail in one scene: Nelly tells Loulou, while they’re walking the streets with his mother, that 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 directs with an emphasis on realism. The ever-present comparisons to American director John Cassavetes are on the money, if a bit limiting, here: the camerawork’s jittery and the characters talk over each other with an improvisational enthusiasm. Pialat’s screenplay, penned with Arlette Langmann, is habitually elliptical. The ellipticity at first seems a weakness in the storytelling, buttressing ideas that this is all moving too quickly (relating to structural pacing, not the focal romance) and that these characters are sketches. But eventually it reinforces what makes the movie dawdle in the memory. If there’s a hastiness, an 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, and they avoid prodding too much at the complications undergirding their relationships.
“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 mechanism 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, but no good can come of her relationship with her husband, either.
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 internally recognize some regrets and shift her thinking around her relationship with André. But, like most else in “Loulou,” Pialat is more oblique than direct on 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 inscrutable to even her.
dissatisfied wife of the temperamental André (Guy Marchand), at a disco. An attraction is mutual. Before we have gotten to know any of these characters very well, Nelly has fallen 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 itself 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 has mostly 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 on Nelly’s level. Do something because it feels good. Defer introspection as long as you can.
oulou (Gérard Depardieu), a shaggy-haired, leather jacket-wearing, small-time criminal-slash-perennial slacker, first meets Nelly (Isabelle Huppert), the
On Maurice Pialat's Loulou and Police
Smile Now, Cry Later June 9, 2020
Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert in 1980's Loulou.