Paris By Night (Une Nuit): Film Review

Paris By Night - H 2012
Nightlife noir has plenty of ambience, few thrills.

The Paris-set film follows a corrupt cop and his rookie femme partner as they go around the city's seedier after hours joints.

PARIS -- Although it certainly lives up to the promise of its title, Paris by Night (Une Nuit) offers up little more than a low-key, rather thrill-less joyride through the City of Light’s seedier after hours joints as they’re visited by a corrupt cop and his rookie femme partner. Co-written and directed by TV vet Phillipe Lefebvre, the film features convincing turns from stars Roschdy Zem (Point Blank) and Sara Forestier (The Names of Love), but never enough action or suspense to make for an engaging policier with serious breakout potential. Mid-sized local release should round up modest numbers and stronger ancillary returns.

Treading in the waters of French noir gurus like Jean-Pierre Melville and Olivier Marchal, but with neither the aesthetic genius of the former nor the over-the-top violence of the latter, Lefebvre and scribes Simon Michael (Special Correspondents) and Philippe Isard provide a potentially harrowing premise that fails to head anywhere exciting.

This is all the more unfortunate in that they have many of the ingredients needed for a surefire thriller: a crooked police commander, Weiss (Zem), with his hand in too many cookie jars; a newbie recruit, Deray (Forestier), learning the ropes of the night shift; and finally, Paris’ extensive underbelly of dance clubs, strip clubs, and sex clubs, along with their myriad bouncers, bartenders, strippers, Mesdames and drag queens, as well as the Mafioso types who run the whole thing through coercion, kickbacks and all sorts of double-dealing.

But what Paris by Night lacks is a truly gripping narrative, opting instead for a chatty and repetitive ride-along that tracks the coppers though various night owl spots as they cross paths with two club owners (Samuel Le Bihan, Gregory Fitoussi) waging a small territorial war, with the conniving Weiss caught in between. Guns are hardly pulled and never actually fired, while most of the action is of the purely verbal kind, with nearly every plot point explained through drawn-out dialogues spoken between sips of whiskey and puffs of cigarettes (which Weiss, despite current laws, has the privilege of smoking indoors – corruption indeed).

Shot in lots of actual locations and tinged with a lived-in realism, the film makes one long for a pure documentary on the intriguing, Stygian world that serves as a backdrop for its lightweight heroes and clichéd crooks. Both Zem and Forestier come off well despite their somewhat wooden characters, and they provide some reasonable chemistry (not unlike the pair in Training Day, but sans any real pathos) that dissipates during a predictable final twist.

Widescreen HD cinematography by Jerome Almeras (I’ve Loved You So Long) tends to flatten out the low-lit interior/exterior spaces, taking even more depth away from the proceedings.

Opens: In France (January 4)
Production companies: Les Films Manuel Munz, Tout Sur L’Ecran Cinema, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels, UGC, France 2 Cinema, Hole in One
Cast: Roschdy Zem, Sara Forestier, Samuel Le Bihan, Gregory Fitoussi, Jean-Pierre Martins
Director: Philippe Lefebvre
Screenwriters: Simon Michael, Philippe Isard, Philippe Lefebvre
Producer: Manuel Munz
Director of photography: Jerome Almeras
Production designer: Jean-Luc Raoul
Music: Olivier Florio
Costume designer: Anne David
Editor: Pascale Fenouillet
Sales Agent: TF1 International
No rating, 101 minutes