Friday, September 1, 2023

Le boiteux (Baby Blues) (1999)

At one point in Le boiteux, Lieutenant Jacques Déveure tells his girlfriend, “I don’t know what’s in my heart, Louisa.” Louisa has already accused Déveure of being unable to commit to her because he is obsessed with Albertin, a criminal who shot him in the ankle three years earlier, giving him a permanent limp (and hence the title of the film in French; the title in English is not a direct translation). By this point in the film, Louisa is exasperated with Déveure. She tells him, “I’m supposed to know, am I? Is that it? I’m supposed to know. [pause] I get the impression that it’s not a pretty sight, inside that heart of yours.”

But the fact is that Lieutenant Jacques Déveure is one of the most trustworthy characters in the film, as is Louisa and Granier, Déveure’s partner on the police force. Déveure and Granier are investigating the death of an infant, and they uncover layers of corruption that seem to involve everyone in the small fictitious town in the southwest of France, where the infant’s body is found.

The skeletal remains of an infant are discovered in the basement of an apartment house by a worker installing new heat pipes. Lieutenant Jacques Déveure and his partner Granier are assigned to the investigation. It’s the first serious case for Déveure since his on-the-job injury three years earlier, when Albertin shot him in the ankle. Déveure now walks with a brace on his leg, a cane, and a limp. To say that he is bitter is an understatement.

Viewers see the extended flashback of this incident involving Lieutenant Déveure’s injury during the opening credits. This flashback is repeated in bits and pieces throughout the film to show how much Déveure has been haunted by this injury and how much it has affected his outlook on life. Sometimes his own reflection in his bathroom mirror triggers these recollections. Coming face to face with his partner Granier’s use of violence to stop a murderous suspect also prompts these flashbacks. In both these flashback instances, it is Albertin’s face specifically that comes to Déveure’s mind, which perhaps shows him—and viewers—that he, his partner, and Albertin may be very similar after all. Their reasons for doing what they do may be the only thing that sets them apart.

(This article about Le boiteux contains spoilers.)

Déveure and Granier start asking questions, first of Blandine and Patrick Piancet, the tenants of the building where the infant’s skeleton is found. Patrick Piancet is the son of the town’s mayor, Lucien Piancet. Lucien Piancet managed to ensnare many people in his web of corruption and murder over several years because of his connection to the owner of a construction company: Mr. Callero. The two are the source of all the misery and despair; they don’t care about family, friends, or strangers, only about making money and their own amusement. Others in town were trapped either unwittingly or because they themselves had or have something to hide.

Blandine Piancet isn’t taken very seriously by any of the other characters in the film, not at first. But she is a victim of the corruption in town. Other characters call her crazy, which only makes it easier for her to be taken less and less seriously—until she reaches a breaking point, and by then it’s too late. As Déveure and Granier’s investigation proceeds, they find that some of the people calling Blandine unstable aren’t so stable themselves. They justify their actions by blaming others or putting their own emotions above all else. Unfortunately for Blandine, she gets most of the blame, although her actions are the least offensive and the least criminal.

Le boiteux is a 1999 made-for-French-television film that I doubt would ever be shown on broadcast television in the United States, not without cutting the sex scene between Déveure and his girlfriend Louisa. The macabre humor about keeping a corpse in a refrigerator where it was found and where it would be most practical might be cut, too. I found the film because I have recently become a fan of the film’s star, Vincent Winterhalter, and because my public library system happened to have a copy of the DVD. (Winterhalter has starred in several films that are part of the Murder In . . . series in France. Highly recommended but not because they are noir, unfortunately; they are fun police procedurals that explore different locations in France.)

The first time that I saw Le boiteux, I wasn’t so sure that it was noir. The music score, and the film’s theme music specifically, is very upbeat. The film was shot on location in “Bordeaux, Bourg sur Gironde, et Blanquefort” according to the closing credits. These are small cities in southwestern France, with relatively warm weather and, as shown in the film, plenty of local color. But evil can happen anywhere, and that’s definitely the case in Le boiteux. In fact, “small” may mean that evil is easier to pursue because it’s easier to know everyone’s business and their weaknesses. It’s a theme that is explored in some U.S. films noir, for example, Kansas City Confidential (1952) and The Phenix City Story (1955). Two characters in Le boiteux, Lucien Piancet and Callero, take advantage of their small-town circumstances and everyone living there.

Lieutenant Déveure, his partner Granier, and the rest of the police force do the best they can with limited resources and limited cooperation. Déveure’s moments of self-doubt, doubt about his work, and his hesitation about commitment to his girlfriend Louisa seem to make him stronger as he faces these problems throughout the story. The murder case is solved, but it is Déveure’s character arc that is the most satisfying part of the narrative.

January 3, 1999, broadcast date    Directed by Paule Zadjermann    Screenplay by Paule Zadjermann, Pascale Basset-Chercot    Based on the novel Baby-blues by Pascale Basset-Chercot    Music by Jean-Claude Vannier    Edited by Jean-Baptiste de Battista    Cinematography by Gérard de Battista

Vincent Winterhalter as Lieutenant Jacques Déveure    François Berléand as Granier    Audrey Tautou as Blandine Piancet    Brigitte Roüan as Véronique Troney    Laura del Sol as Louisa    Frédéric Gorny as Patrick Piancet    Jean-Marie Frin as Lucien Piancet    Stéphane Jobert as Callero    Stéphane Olivié Bisson as Dr. Gallot    Nicolas Silberg as Commissioner Chassagne    Alban Guitteny as Adjutant Berchet    Julie-Marie Parmentier as Jasmine Troney    Philippe de Brugada as Pinto    Philippe Laudenbach as Dr. Joseph Brant    Renée Courty as Madame Vannier    Laurent Olmedo as Albertin    Valérie Ancel as the mayor’s secretary

Produced by Cinétévé-France 3 Production Sud-Ouest    Broadcast by France 3

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