Director: Erick Zonca
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Sandrine Kiberlain, Romain Duris
Watch Black Tide online in the UK: MUBI UK
Black Tide is one of several films released online as part of the month-long MyFrenchFilmFestival. See the full 2019 line-up here.
Vincent Cassel excels in this French noir that’s so dark they should replace the dictionary translation of the word with a giant ink stain. He plays Commander Francois Visconti, a police detective so bad he makes Nic Cage’s Bad Lieutenant look like Quite Nice Lieutenant. He’s a mess of a man, half booze and half raging prejudice, to the point where you wonder how he still has a job. But detect he must, and he falls head-first into a missing child case that promises to dredge up all kinds of murky secrets.
The child in question is 16 year old Dany Arnault, whose disappearance may or may not be indicative of something more fatal. His absence leaves behind worried mum Solange (Sandrine Kiberlain), who already has a stressful enough time trying to care for her daughter with Down syndrome. So it’s hard to imagine a worse person to send to her house than Francois, who’s just as likely to hit on her as he is treat her like a guilty culprit. The main suspect, though, emerges as
Yann Bellaile (Romain Duris), Dany’s French tutor.
Erick Zonca, back at the helm 10 years after his last effort, Julia, starring Tilda Swinton, lines up red herrings and clues with a slow patience, seemingly in no rush to solve events. That gives him ample time to ramp up the morbid mood, using handheld camera to bring us in so close to our sleuth that we can smell the stale smoke on his clothes. That also gives things a slightly wayward feel, as Romain Duris has so much fun as the wannabe crime writer that you decide early on he surely, surely must be the one responsible.
That line of enquiry takes us to a grimy final act that swings from awkward to downright horrible, as Zonca revels in the pitch-black nastiness of it all. But if the story is a little lacking – a subplot involving Francois’ own son, Denis (Felix Back), who is becoming caught up in the local drug scene, never quite falls into thematic place – Black Tide works better as a character study of Francois. Cassel is so hangdog he’s practically part canine, and it’s a pleasure to be reminded of just how grizzled his acting chops can get, as he falls further and further into an alcohol-fuelled stupor, while trying to engage with Duris’ teacher in a battle of brooding, often misguided wits.
Adapted by Zonca and Lou de Fanget Signolet from Dror Mishani’s novel, The Missing File, the result is genre cinema as grimy as it gets and while that may not be tasteful, or to everyone’s tastes, it’s a showcase for Cassel that leaves you wishing he had more lead roles. When this bad cop is bad he’s very bad, and Vincent’s very good at that.
Black Tide is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription, until 26th February 2019.
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