Undercover @ Cinemania

Sometimes film festivals seem to drag on and on, but the true sign of a solid one is when it seems to be over too soon. This year Cinemania was over in a blink. I truly enjoyed myself and it was a reminder of what a great festival and opportunity it is, no matter if you are a francophone or anglophone (the films are all subtitled), for Montreal film fans to see the best French language films of the past year all in one place and on a big screen.

The last film I took in at Cinemania 2022 was Undercover (Enquête sur un scandale d’État), a film made in France by director and co-screenwriter Thierry de Peretti (Une Vie Violente) and based on L’Infiltré by Hubert Antoine. It was originally released in 2021 and now has come to the big screen in Montreal courtesy of Cinemania.

Undercover is a police drama that deals with a drug case. In the center of Paris, customs seizes several tonnes of weed. On the surface, this seems like just your average, run-of-the-mill drug bust. Soon we learn it is anything but.

An investigative journalist (Pio Marmai – La Premiere Jour du Reste de la Vie) working at Libération becomes interested in the bust. This is due to the fact that a former police infiltrator, Hubert Antoine (Roschdy Zem – The Innocent, Madame Claude) in the Narcotics division claims to be able to prove that the drug bust is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to state-led drug dealing. He not only says it is evidence but that he can prove that the state drug trafficking ring is led by high-ranking police officer, Jacques Billard (Vincent Lindon – La haine, Avec amour et acharnement).

This is not one of those drug bust/police drama/investigative journalism films that is all action. Actually, this one is rather slow in pace. Instead, to develop tension, it relies on whiz bang dialogue and a moody tone. To lend to this, director de Peretti shot the film using a cinéma vérité style in which the sound is not perfect and the visuals grainy. Gives the entire goings-on a realistic feel. Like things are happening right before your own eyes. IRL.

At the end, the big court scene is where the payoff comes. Done in a way that is different from your typical court scenes. These are the scenes in which Lindon really shines as a man who believes he has the right to do what he does.

There are many a film that has brought drug/corrupt police officers dramas to the screen. What separates this film from that rather large pile is the manner it is presented. Different from the rest. It is truly a cat-and-mouse game we get here.